What has Easter done to Mother’s Day?

Listen to mp3 file
6th Sunday of Easter, Year C: May 8-9, 2010
Acts 15:1-2, 22-29; Ps 67:2-3, 5-6, 8; Rev 21:10-14, 22-23; John 14:23-29

The Scriptures tell us many stories about mothers and their children. And on this Mother’s Day, one story that caught my interest comes from the Old Testament, from the Book of Exodus, chapter 2. That story takes place probably a little after 1300 B.C., when the People of Israel were slaves in the land of Egypt. And in this story we encounter a young wife and mother named Jochebed who gives birth to a son. [Her name is found in Exod 6:20 and Num 26:59.]

This was a time when Pharaoh had ordered that all Hebrew baby boys should be killed. So how was this mother going to save her newborn son’s life? You probably remember the story: how she wove a basket, and made it water-tight, and put her baby boy into it, and then took it and put it floating among the reeds near the bank of the Nile River—a place that, hopefully, no one would ever go looking for a baby. But who ends up finding the baby by chance, but Pharaoh’s daughter!—and she was moved with pity and adopted that baby boy as her own, and named him—Moses. But she gave Moses back to Jochebed—not knowing that she was his mother—to nurse for a time, before Moses would then go to grow up in the royal house.

What had happened to the relationship between little baby Moses and his mother Jochebed? She had entrusted him to the water to save him. And he had been saved—but he had also been changed! Raised back up from the water, he was still her son; and yet now he was royalty. Jochebed’s motherhood would never be the same.

We are now a full five weeks into the Easter Season. Five weeks ago, on Good Friday, we remembered how another mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, lost her Son when his dead body was taken down from the cross and lowered into the grave. But three days later she got him back when he rose from the dead on that first Easter Sunday. She got him back; and yet he too had been changed. He had never been an ordinary Son; he had always been true God and true man. But now even the body that she had given to him had been transformed, for he had been raised as the firstfruits of the Resurrection. After a few more years, she would become the second, when she was assumed, taken up, into heaven to join him in the fullness of the Resurrection, and her body too was transformed. And she is there with him at this moment. Our Lady’s motherhood had never been ordinary; but, after Easter Sunday, it would never be the same.

Jochebed and Mary: are these two stories unusual? Did they only happen to these two women? Or does every mother, and father, present here today, know this experience too? What has Easter done to Mother’s Day?

One of the great symbols of Easter is the baptismal font. Because that water is the sacramental means by which we enter into Christ’s death, so that we may rise with him to new life; by which we gain the fruits of his Easter passage from death to life in the transformation of our souls in baptism. Now, we know there are a couple different ways of being baptized. And the option of being baptized by being completely immersed in that water is the best illustration, the best way to communicate the truth of what is going on in any baptism. For then, as we see the person go down into that water and come back up, we really see, as St. Paul wrote, that “We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.” [Rom 6:4]

Now surely every mother and father here remembers the day that you brought each of your children to the font for baptism—perhaps this very font, or one in another church. Probably each of those children had been born only weeks or months before. And you had cared for them, provided for them, protected them with so much love, so much dedication. And yet you knew that, like young baby Moses, they too faced a great danger; and it was a danger that you could not protect them from. For each of your baby boys and baby girls had been born with the stain of original sin on their soul. This was a stain you could not wash away; but you knew who could. And so you brought your child to baptism, to give him or her to the Risen Christ—the one who could save them.

Probably your baby was baptized through the option of water being poured over his or her forehead. But even if they were not fully immersed in water, the reality was the same. On that day, your baby went down into the tomb with Christ and then was raised back up with him to new life. And there is even more than that, in the reality of baptism. In Rome, at the St. John Lateran basilica, in the baptistery, there is an inscription that reads:

At this font, the Church, our mother, gives birth from her virginal womb to the children she conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The baptismal font is, sacramentally, Christ’s tomb, and so it is also the womb of the Church, from which we are born to the new life that Christ gives us.

And so the child that you received back from baptism was still your son or your daughter. And yet they also had been changed: their soul had been permanently changed to be like Christ, to be close to Christ, to share in his Resurrection life. They had been adopted: in Christ, God was now their father, and the Church—and indeed Mary, who is a figure of the Church—was now their mother.

At that moment, it was your son or daughter, that you held in your arms. And yet it was God’s son, God’s daughter, that you held in your arms. Because of Easter, from that moment on, your motherhood, your fatherhood, would never be the same.

What does that all mean? Well, let’s imagine for a moment that, one day, you’re at home, and the doorbell rings. You open the door and you find President and Mrs. Obama standing on the doorstep, with their two young daughters, Malia and Sasha. And the Obamas say to you: “We love our daughters very much. But we have decided that the public life in the White House just isn’t a good place for them to grow up. And so we want to ask you if you would care for them for us and raise them, during these years that we are going to be in the White House. Would you do that for us?”

How extraordinary that would be! And what kinds of things would quickly go through your head?

  • First, what an honor!—to be asked to care for and raise the President’s children! Who gets asked that? In honor, you would suddenly be raised above everyone you know.
  • But, second, what a task! What a burden! What would it take to carry that out, and for how many years? How could you ever do it? Could you even say yes?
  • But if you did say yes, well then, for the next 4 or 8 years, an awful lot in your life would have to change. Keeping up with the Joneses next door? Psh, who cares about the Joneses! All the little ways that you like to pass your time? Those might have to be set aside. Because the great questions that would shape your life for this time would be: How do you raise the daughters of a President? How do you raise them: for who they are now; for who they will need to be in the future; for the life that awaits them, after they have moved on from your house?
  • And surely you would also wonder: Why me? Out of all the people in the country, why would the President and the First Lady ask me to raise their daughters?

All of these thoughts would go through your head in our imaginary situation. But all of that, and so much more, is the reality that began that day that you went to the baptismal font, and a son or daughter of God was placed back in your arms, and God the Father said to you: “Would you raise them for me, for 18 years or so?”

For that child in your arms had become the dwelling place of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. As we heard Christ say in today’s Gospel reading: “My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.” It would be possible for someone who was near your child to kneel and pray, recognizing that they were in the presence of God, dwelling in your child.

And where your child is headed, in their future, is the New Heavens and the New Earth described in the second reading in terms of gold and radiance; jasper, sapphire, emerald, pearl, and amethyst.

And if you would wonder, Why me?—in our imaginary situation with the Obamas it would be a mystery; but not in your reality with Christ. For you yourself are also an adopted daughter or son of God, since your baptism. You have that divine life within you, that indwelling by the Persons of the Blessed Trinity—if you have not killed it through mortal sin. And who better than one daughter or son of the King of Kings to raise another one? For, after baptism, your child is also your brother or sister in Christ—your younger brother or sister in Christ who needs your help to walk that strait and narrow way, all the way through their life, and reach the New Jerusalem. Which is why, at their baptism, you promised to train them in the practice of the faith and to bring them up to keep God’s commandments as Christ taught us, by loving God and our neighbor.

To raise a son or daughter of God: what an honor! What a burden! Like Jochebed and Mary, because of Easter, your motherhood, your fatherhood, will never be the same.

There is one person who understands exactly what you have gone through or will go through in the future; who knows what it is like to be small and finite, and asked to fill an infinite role. For, 2000 years ago, she opened her door to find, not the President of the United States, but the Archangel Gabriel inviting her to become the mother of the only-begotten Son of God. The life of our Blessed Mother Mary was quite a rollercoaster, through joys and sorrows. And in just a few moments we will give her special honor during this month of May. Let the Blessed Mother be your constant companion as you live out your motherhood and fatherhood in Christ.

What has Easter done to Mother’s Day? Well, today, many of you will receive hugs and kisses, cards, flowers, phone calls—maybe even brunch! And it will have been well earned. But one day, you will look into the eyes of Christ. And on that day, may you hear from his lips, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Come, share your master’s joy.” [Matt 25:21]

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Published in: on May 9, 2010 at 2:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
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