This year, Pentecost Sunday, which is this weekend, falls a couple weeks after Mother’s Day.
But several years ago the two celebrations fell on the same day, and I thought that timing was perfect—Pentecost celebrates a birth and a mother, the birth of the church and the church as our mother.
Since then, I’ve thought of Pentecost as our truer, ancient Mother’s Day.
St. Cyprian, a third-century bishop, famously said, “No one can have God as Father who does not have the church as Mother.” The symbolism of the “church as mother” is used throughout early church writings, continues into the medieval period, and, though it may surprise some, was embraced by the reformers. John Calvin quotes Cyprian and refers to the motherhood of the church throughout his Institutes.
The historic symbol of the church as mother is replete (dare I say pregnant) with meaning: we receive the gospel through the church just as we receive life through our mother; in many traditions, word and sacrament are said to nourish and feed us just as mothers nourish infants through their very bodies; and, extending the Pauline metaphor, the church is historically addressed as the “bride-mother,” through which the Spirit bears life to all the world. A French hymn proclaims, “Now Christ, the Model of what all may be, has taken Church, our mother, for his bride…His love is she.” This maternal symbolism affirms the significance of motherhood and the vital role of moms. Throughout church history, when thinkers, teachers, and saints looked around for a symbol of the church—something that told us of that which was essential, life-giving, glorious, nourishing, vital, ...1
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