Yesterday, I went to the grocery store and could barely make it in the door because of the profusion of flower bouquets, potted plants, balloons, stuffed animals and chocolate covered strawberries that filled the front section of the store, waiting for those who wanted to celebrate their mothers to come and buy. As I was checking out, I commented to the woman bagging the groceries about the display and she said that the day before mother’s day is one of the craziest in the store… “Everybody has a mother,” she said. I made a joke, saying that I think we should be nice to our mother’s every day… rather than bringing her flowers one Sunday a year.
We observe holidays to remember things that are important…historical happenings, causes that matter, people we love, religious observances, or the cycles of life and nature. We use holidays as a time to come together and make agreements about who we are as a community. We take time to celebrate to remind us that whatever might be going on in our lives or in the world, things have happened that have brought us to our current lives and identities. Today, we have three holidays to remember.
The first one, not a religious holiday, of course, is Mother’s Day. And yet, it is imbued with a number of spiritual reminders. We often say that on this day we celebrate with gratitude those women who have been a mothering presence in our lives. That’s partly because not every family is happy, but it’s also because we believe that, in our best moments, we are able to love each other in the ways that God loves us—We are able to be expansive, protective, selfless, strong, wise, nurturing, and brave the way that mother’s ideally love their children. On this day, I always remember the Gospel of Matthew, when Jesus said: “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”
Next, in the Acts of the Apostle, the story occurs on Hanukkah, also called the Feast of the Dedication or the Festival of Lights. This feast is one that celebrates God’s deliverance of Israel from oppression, as well as the rededication of the altar and the cleansing of the temple by the Maccabees.
The history told of the time when a Seleucid king Antiochus Ephiphanes came to power. He profaned the Jewish temple and forced the Jews to abandon their religion in favor of pagan rituals. A group of freedom fighters rose up to overthrow the king. Once they had succeeded, rabbinic tradition says, a miracle happened. When the Jews re-entered the temple they could only find one small, sealed jug of olive oil that had not been profaned or contaminated by the Seleucids. They used this to light the menorah (a lamp stand in the temple), and though the oil was only enough to last one day, it miraculously lasted eight days—time for more oil to be made ready. That’s why Hanukkah lasts for eight days.
It’s interesting that this too is a holiday that doesn’t have a scriptural basis, but rather one of tradition. This is a historical moment that points to God’s continuing presence with us. It’s a reminder that unexpected things can happen even in hard times. It affirms for us that when we work for justice, when we stand up against tyranny, and when we honor God by creating and using sacred spaces to stay connected with holiness, then we honor God and become more truly who we are meant to be.
The third holiday, of course, is Easter. We are only four weeks in to a season that lasts 50 days—so we’re about half way through the season. To mark the occasion, we have another resurrection story, one that gives us at least a small glimpse of the bigger healing and love of the Easter story. Peter has another moment of leadership…reaching out to the good woman, Doras also called Tabitha, who has died. She tells her to get up—and once again she is drawn into life much to the joy of her loving community. She is given another opportunity to continue to good work that she has done throughout her life.
It echoes in a bigger way the story of when Jesus brought his friend Lazarus back from the dead after he had been dead three days. It’s also a story of hope for the newly burgeoning Christian community. Even if Jesus earthly ministry has come to an end, the powerful healing and good work that he started can be continued by his disciples, this story reminds us because we are people who know and hear Christ’s voice. That is what gives us our identity.
We need to remember both the ministry and the resurrection of Jesus—not just as history but as a calling that draws us into our future. As disciples of Jesus, we can be the doer of good works like Tabitha and the voice of those who have no power like Jesus. We live into an understanding that God wants life for us—and that when we reach out to each other it can be life giving a well.
At first, it seems that these three have nothing to do with each other… and yet they do. Yesterday afternoon, I attended a memorial for an amazing young man who died of suicide having struggled for many years with schizophrenia. As his mother spoke to the several hundred people, young and old, assembled to remember her son, she spoke about the love and gratitude she had for both the life of her son and for the many, many people who had touched or been touched by his life. She spoke about his gentleness, sense of humor, bright mind, and loving spirit. And the whole family asked for nothing more than that everyone present take those traits into the world so that they could continue in the world.
Although a memorial service isn’t a holiday, it does have a similar purpose… to bring us together, to help us remember, and to point us to the future. Holidays teach us that our identity comes from who we love, what has happened to us, and how God loves us. And holidays and memorials both give us an opportunity to be conduits of healing for each other. Yesterday, woman who lost her son taught me how to think about Mother’s day as an invitation to unimaginable generosity and love. An ancient faith taught me about living out the faith that history has given us and always looking for ways to bring justice into the world. And finally, Easter has taught me how to continue the healing and caring work that is so life giving to our community.
Happy Mother’s Day! Happy Hanukkah! And, most of all, Happy Easter! Let us always remember, nurture, and celebrate who we are, where we’ve been, and who God intends for us to be.
Preached by the Rev. Hailey McKeefry Delmas at the Church of the Epiphany, San Carlos, on Sunday, May 12, 2019.