Legacy of Love: A Mothering Spirit

If you would have opened a newspaper on May 1, 1864, in Webster, West Virginia, you may have found something like this: 

Ann Marie and Granville E. Jarvis of Webster, Taylor County, welcomed a baby girl in the wee hours of the morning. Baby Anna Maria Jarvis and mother are doing well. 

Baby Anna would grow up the ninth of her parent’s 11 children, and was involved in her community, both as a teacher and a volunteer at her family’s home church,  Andrews Methodist Episcopal. After high school, she studied at Augusta Female Seminary, taught for a few years, and eventually joined her mother in church work. The time spent together at Andrews Methodist Episcopal brought the two together over shared faith and love for Christ. 

Anna would eventually move from her hometown of Webster to Philadelphia, where she was the first female literary editor at Fidelity Life Insurance Company. She grew to love Pennsylvania, and convinced her mother to make the move to Philadelphia after her husband, Anna’s father, died. 

Anna cared for her mother throughout the rest of Ann’s life. Following her mother’s death, Anna, like many of us who have lost a loved one, thought about how she could honor her mother’s legacy. She remembered a prayer that her mother Ann gave at the end of a Sunday School lesson: it goes like this: 

I hope and pray that someone, sometime, will found a memorial mothers day commemorating her for the matchless service she renders to humanity in every field of life. She is entitled to it.

 Anna recalled her mother’s efforts to care for wounded soldiers from both the North and South during the Civil War, and the mother’s day Work Clubs she founded to raise awareness for public safety and health issues in her community – clubs that were attended by Julia Ward Howe, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Anna, galvanized by the love her mother held for her, and the work she did for her community, honored her legacy through a memorial service for her mother on May 10, 1908. That service marked the first ever recognition of Mother’s Day in the United States, becoming a national holiday in 1914 by President Woodrow Wilson. Her legacy lives on in the annual celebrations of mothers’ day around the nation. 

Today’s words from the book of  John also speak about  following and honoring a legacy of service. Today’s text directly follows the Gospel lesson we had last week, and is another portion of the Farewell Discourse found In John chapters 14-17. Jesus had just washed his disciples feet, predicted the betrayals of Peter and Judas, and spent these three chapters comforting his Disciples about what was to come.  And the 12 disciples of Christ likely need some reassurance. 

We find our disciples today in an in-between space, one that is all too similar to those who have loved and lost family or friends. It is  this in-between space of life and death, of loving someone that is here, but waiting for them to depart to our Father. It’s a space of wonder: Wonder at the person that the Messiah is, wondering what life is going to look like in the future, and  who is going to direct them and care for them when they are gone. I imagine they feel unequipped to carry the new message of love and grace to a people without their faith leader- without Jesus. Who would guide them?

Jesus tells his disciples of the presence of a new Advocate, who is coming from the Father, to prevent His children from being orphaned. Jesus is departing, but the advocate and God’s love remains. They no longer have to feel without a guide, someone to give them spiritual direction or be with them in times of trial, because an Advocate- the Holy Spirit- is there with them, in times of joy and in times of despair. On days like today, that have mixed emotions for many of us. 

Today is Mother’s Day. It’s a day filled with love for our mothering people, but it is also a day of complicated feelings. We celebrate the mothers in our lives, We may remember our mothers today who have gone before us. Some of us may have strained relationships with our mothers, or may not have a relationship at all. We may have been raised by mothers who did not give birth to us, or we may be both father and mother to a little one. Others have waited, hoped, and prayed for a child, and yet others have lost their children.

Mother’s Day is a day filled with love, but it is also one that is filled with sadness for many of us.  I knew that I wanted to preach a message of abiding love today, but I also knew that I wanted to be sensitive and hold space for those for whom today is painful. 

So I did when I wonder what to do in challenging situations…I called my mom. I read her the Gospel for the day, and she said, “You know, sometimes I feel so connected to my Mom after she passed that it surprises me sometimes. I don’t see her, but I know that she is there”.

Jesus tells us today that the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, is also present with us, like a loved one, a mother,  is after they leave this Earth. Jesus is departing this world, but He and his Father will be with his followers through the presence of the Holy Spirit, an Advocate who will be connected to you, as a mother and a child are connected through time and space by love. 

Anna Jarvis took this feeling of abiding love she felt for her mother as she chose a flower to honor mothers day, at the first annual Mother’s Day service. She says this of carnations: 

 Its whiteness is to symbolize the truth, purity and broad-charity of mother love; its fragrance, her memory, and her prayers. The carnation does not drop its petals, but hugs them to its heart as it dies, and so, too, mothers hug their children to their hearts, their mother’s love never dies”. God too, is truth, is pure, and is charitable to all. God does not drop their petals, and hugs us all to their heart. God mothers us. 

God embraces this “mothering” style of care throughout the Bible. We see it in Isaiah 66: 

God: “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.”, Hosea 11, “I  led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.”

The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, embraces and carries out this mothering-style of care towards all of God’s children. A care that never ceases, that is ever-present, and that always loves. 

On this Mother’s Day Weekend, let us celebrate mothering people in all forms. Let us strive to be like mothers to others, to care for those who need love, using our words and our actions to build up the children in our lives. 

So this weekend, when we see a carnation or pass a flower, let us be grateful for all of the mothering presences we have in our lives – teachers, counselors, doctors, beloved neighbors, and church friends. Let us remember the mothering presence of the Holy Spirit, knowing that God is always with us, petals never fading and love never ceasing, loving us as the best of mothers.