One of my favorite hymns is “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” (ELW 807). It is one of my favorite songs to sing in worship. The lyrics made an impact on me once a long time ago, and they have stuck with me ever since. The ELW version of the hymn has some different verses in stanza 1. The version I am familiar with says, “Teach me some melodious sonnet sung by flaming tongues above. Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it, mount of thy redeeming love.” The flaming tongues provide a throwback to Acts 2 and Pentecost when the crowd was able to understand the preaching in their own languages about the marvels of God. God’s love is truly like a mountain, steadfast and unchanging throughout generations. Check this out if you want to see even more variations on the text.
If you are in the Lutheran world and use Sundays and Seasons resources, you probably have noted the blessing/benediction prescribed for the season of Lent:
God our Father bless you and shield you.
Christ our Mother shelter you and carry you.
God the Holy Spirit guide your journey
+ both now and forever.
If a few eyebrows raised, not to worry. If people revolted in violent protest, worry. Ideally, people will engage, enquire, reflect, and theologically wrestle with the concepts and images in our liturgy. You’re lucky if you have people that do this.
In responding to one parishioner, Pastor Kerry offered some insights:
I assume that the language in the benediction during Lent has something to do with the image of God as a mother hen longing to gather her chicks as was referred to in a gospel reading.
We use words that carry both gender and relational connectedness when we refer to other people. So “father” and “mother” refer both to a biological connection and to gender. When it comes to references to the Trinity, God has no gender. Referring to God as “Father” or “Mother” is about using relational terms to describe our relationship with God. The earthly Jesus was clearly male. The resurrected Jesus? Mystery to me.
I offered some explanation as well:
We have to start from the perspective that God has no gender. God is spirit. The roles that God plays, however, include both mother and father. “From the Bible: In Isaiah, God says (about God’s self), “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you” (Isaiah 49:15). In a prayer of desperation, Moses uses similar womb imagery, speaking of God as one who gives birth, asking God, “Was it I who conceived all this people? or was it I who gave them birth…?” (Numbers 11:12). Hosea describes God as a mother bear, attacking those who steal her cubs (13:8) Jesus compares himself to a mother hen who longs to gather her chicks together under her wings (Matt. 23:37, one of the gospel texts during this season of Lent).
The saints of the past also have more to say: St. Augustine observes that just as a mother’s body transforms ordinary table food–too complex for a baby’s delicate digestive system–into milk that is tailored to the baby’s needs, so does the Lord convert Wisdom into “milk” appropriate for our limited understanding. Another early church father, Clement of Alexandria, devotes an entire chapter to this mysterious process of mother’s blood becoming milk, musing over the various ways this connects to the spiriutal world. In one example, he views Christ as the nourishment that flows from the “Father’s breast,” feeding us with the milk of love. St. John Chrysostom writes of Christ as a mother who does not farm her babies out to a wet nurse but rather feeds them personally and tenderly.
“As truly as God is our Father, so truly is God our Mother,” wrote 14th-century mystic Julian of Norwich. “To the property of motherhood belong nature, love, wisdom, and knowledge, and this is God. . . The mother can give her child a suck of milk but our precious Mother Jesus can feed us with himself and does. . .” (I think she was speaking of the Eucharist here?)
St. Catherine of Siena compared Christ’s sacrifice on the cross to a mother who takes a bitter medicine so her nursing baby can get well again.” (quoted from Julie McCarty) So, throughout the history of the church there is a rich heritage of understanding God as having mothering characteristics.I would argue that the title “Mother” is not a gender specific title and that Jesus’ actions and very words recorded in the gospel warrant the title “Mother.” Consider the context of single parents or same-sex couples. Regardless of gender, a single parent fulfills both the title of “mother” and “father” (possibly not with the greatest ease, possibly better than two opposite gendered people). Actions and titles are too closely related to disassociate them. I mother my children when they need to be mothered. Does that make me a mother? Maybe temporarily. That’s why we like the term “co-parent.”Also, historically the church is referred to in the feminine as “her” or “she.” If the church is the body of Christ, wouldn’t that be inclusive of Christ (as head of the body) to be called “her” or “she”? There is some mystery there. I’m comfortable living in the tension.
(HT: Spiritual Drawing Board)