On this Mothers’ Day I want to talk about a different aspect of the resurrection from the way we usually look at it. Through the Easter season we often have hymns, readings and prayers that focus on the triumph of the resurrection, its victory over death, its spectacular miraculous nature. But I’d like to look at it today as something more personal and intimate, that’s about comfort and union more than triumph. And I’d like to talk about the maternal images of God, and even of Jesus.
In today’s gospel, which isn’t about a resurrection appearance at all, Jesus says: “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.” [John 10:27-28] It’s the language of intimacy, safety, protection.
And in the reading from Revelation, there’s the beautiful passage about Jesus the Lamb of God acting as a shepherd to his people. The lamb becomes the shepherd! It says: “He will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” [Rev. 7:17b]
We read these passages during the Easter season because they show us another dimension of the resurrection: not so much the triumphant victory over death, but the intimate, protective, consoling presence of God with us in Christ, bringing us comfort in our suffering and wiping away the tears of our pain and sorrow. Resurrection life comes as a comforting hug, a shoulder to weep on where we can be heard and cared for; the reassurance that all will be well.
If you’ve ever consoled a crying child who’s frightened or sick or hurt, you know how instinctive it is to hold that child close, and say, “There, there. It’s alright. I’m here. It’s OK.” That’s the imagery in these passages – the divine consoling presence, keeping us close, protecting us, wiping away our tears.
Someone who knew this consoling God well from her own experience is a remarkable medieval English woman, known by the name of her church, St Julian’s Church in Norwich, England, where she lived as a hermit. And today, May 8, is the date she is celebrated. Julian of Norwich fell deathly ill, perhaps with the bubonic plague which was rampant in Europe at that time, and had a series of visions that she later wrote about and meditated over for decades, after she recovered.
Julian of Norwich wrote about the welcoming, encircling love of God that never abandons us, no matter what: “God is our clothing that wraps, clasps and encloses us so as to never leave us.” “As the body is clothed in cloth and the muscles in the skin and the bones in the muscles and the heart in the chest, so are we, body and soul, clothed in the Goodness of God and enclosed.”
“Faith,” she says, “is nothing else but a right understanding that we are in God and God whom we do not see is in us.”
And for Julian this was very naturally described as being like a mother’s love. She writes: “Jesus is our true Mother in whom we are endlessly carried and out of whom we will never come.”
The soul, she says, is meant to be “oned” with God – at one, in a beautiful, trusting, protective union. It’s very reminiscent of Jesus’ prayer that his disciples be one with him and with each other, as he is one with God.
This is resurrection life: the knowledge and experience that even in the face of death and suffering and sin and evil, there is profound comfort in our union with God. God our Mother holds us close and says, “There, there. It’s alright. I’m here.” Or as it says in the passage from John’s gospel today, nothing can snatch us from God’s hand.
In one of the most famous parts of Julian’s book, she writes: “Sin exists, but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” That is resurrection faith.
Let me read a little more: “We see so much evil around us, so much harm done, that we think it impossible that there is any good in this world. We look at this in sorrow, and mourn so that we cannot see God as we should…. We are unable to know the marvellous wisdom, capability and goodness of the joyful Trinity. Just as the joyful Trinity created all things out of nothing, so also this same blessed Trinity will make well all that is not well.”
Resurrection faith. Nothing can snatch us out of God’s hand. And God will wipe every tear from our eye.
I think we need that comfort now, in these difficult days we’re living, and have been living for the last two years and more. The people of Ukraine need that comfort. The 82.4 million refugees around the world need that comfort. The Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island, retrieving their children’s bodies from unmarked graves, need that comfort – that every tear will be wiped away, and it’s going to be alright.
Yes, we affirm that we believe in God the Father Almighty, but we also need the motherly face of God, holding us close, wiping up our tears, rocking us, reassuring us that it’s going to be OK. We need the comfort of the resurrection – and that means the strengthening, the healing, the hope and trust that come from comfort. That’s how we have the faith and will to carry on.
So happy Mothers’ Day. May you know as surely as Julian of Norwich did the motherly, encircling, tenacious love of God, that will comfort you and never let you go. And may we all share that love with others. Amen.