Back to Blog
Fourth Sunday of Advent B
Last fall, on Gaudete Sunday, I asked what is there to be joyful about during the pandemic. Today is Laetare Sunday on the Catholic liturgical calendar. Laetare also means “rejoice.” This time, with warmer weather and more daylight in our hemisphere, our moods are shifting just a bit. More adults are “fully” vaccinated, COVID-19 cases are down, venues are slowly reopening, some of our kids are playing sports and others are making their way back to the classroom.
Originally, Laetare Sunday offered some respite from the rigors of Lenten penances. I am not sure we can relax yet. We are still bedeviled by suffering and sorrow due to the pandemic. Thousands of Americans are out of work, the food distribution centers are feeding hungry households, too many people of color have not been vaccinated, and women, especially single moms, are bearing the brunt of all these hardships. Prayer alone will not help them.
In the Anglican tradition today is called “Mothering Sunday” (Gal 4:27). It began as a time to honor mothers and, later, affectionately, mother nature, mother of God, and mother of us all. The biblical reason for the commemoration is found in today’s Introit (a hymn at the start of liturgy) that describes motherhood as a metaphor for Jerusalem, the shining city on a hill in the promised land. It reads:
“Rejoice, O Jerusalem; and gather round, all you who love her; rejoice in gladness, after having been in sorrow; exult and be replenished with the consolation flowing from her motherly bosom.”
Mothering is essential during difficult times. However, new research tells us that demotherization is affecting households everywhere. This socio-political term describes how the traditional roles of families and motherhood are changing. The research addresses gender inequalities in nations where income inequity continues to grow. Instead of entire families pitching in to help one another, care giving has fallen on the shoulders of women in spite of help from government agencies. Women in low income families suffer most of all.
Like Mothering Sunday the month of March honors the history of women and girls who have built, shaped, and improved this nation. (I am writing this on Harriet Tubman Day.) This year we are mindful of how women in general and mothers in particular are carrying extra responsibilities exacerbated by the pandemic. They work, shop, cook, clean, home school and try to take care of themselves all at the same time.
In his season of lent there are particular emphases on suffering. A line in today’s gospel (John 3:14-21) provides the traditional explanation for Jesus’s suffering and death. God gave up Jesus “so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” How does this actually happen since there is little evidence that the world is on its way to salvation? According to Alicia D. Myers Jesus’ dying on the cross is not about defeat and despair, but as “the place of life, the sign of God’s profound love for creation.”
Paul nudges his non-Jewish readers to take action in today’s letter to the Ephesians (2:4-10), which was written before the gospel of John, which was also written in Ephesus. Paul’s missive helps us focus on the season of Lent as a contemporary time for renewing our covenant with God and one another. The text reads: “We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance.”
If the cross paradoxically stands for sorrow and death at the same time it represents life and hope then there is still work to be done. A lot of mothering is required. Second Testament scholar, Marilyn Salmon, wrote: “Opportunities stretch from our doorstep around the globe.” They require, in her words, that we “move outside our comfort zone to make a public confession of our faith.”
Women have been mothering, caring for others, in every society throughout human history. In church circles they have served many roles without formal anointing or gratitude. Mothers of us all, these women nurse us with joy and happiness even in the midst of sorrow and suffering.
In her poem “Kindness” Naomi Shihab Nye casts wisdom on how the gift of kindness wards off sorrow.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore ….
Laetare Sunday is a day of restrained rejoicing inspired by the contributions of all the women mothering those of us who, like them, know sorrow. We join them with this hope: In the end “it is only kindness that makes sense anymore.”