“Christ our Mother” Benediction

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.
Amen.

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.

hen and chicksIn 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)

Advent Iconography

Who do you see in this image?

Slide1

 

This one may be easier:


Slide2

Both of these images show Jesus (center), Mary the mother of Jesus (left), and John the Baptizer (right).

Orthodox churches have an iconostasis: a wall of icons and religious paintings that links together the nave from the sanctuary in a church. The door (called the Beautiful Gates) that the priest uses to move between the sanctuary and the nave is flanked by icons.

Slide3

The bottom tier of icons is called the Sovereign. On the right side of the Beautiful Gates is an icon of Christ (often called Pantocrator –which means Almighty, Omnipotent, Lord of the Hosts). This image of Jesus symbolizes his Second Coming. On the left side is an icon of Mary the mother of Jesus, symbolizing Christ’s incarnation and entrance into this world. There is a theology behind these images. One side is Christ’s first incarnation, the other side is Christ’s second coming. All movement that takes place in the sanctuary during worship happens between Christ’s first and second coming.

John the Baptizer and Mary the mother of Jesus take their places beside Jesus as the primary examples of proclaiming and bearing the presence of Christ in the world. How do John and Mary strengthen our faith? One said, “I am not worthy to untie his sandals.” The other said, “I am the servant of the Lord, use me.” They model for us humility and service to the Messiah.

Advent is the season when we reflect on living between the first incarnation of Christ and his second coming. We remember his first coming into the world as a baby. And as we prepare for the coming of the infant Jesus, we are actually preparing for his second coming as the Ruler for all eternity.