A Mother’s Love, A Shepherd’s Care
St. Philip Lutheran Church
8 May 2022 + Fourth Sunday of Easter /
Julian of Norwich, renewer of the church
John 10.22-30; Psalm 23
Rev. Josh Evans
In case you still need a Mother’s Day card, might I suggest Cards by Julian?
On the front: “The mother’s service is the closest, the most helpful and the most sure, for it is the most faithful …” Awww, that’s sweet.
On the inside: “We know that our mothers only bring us into the world to suffer and die…” Wait, what??
“But,” Julian goes on, “our true mother, Jesus, he who is all love, bears us into joy and eternal life.”
While little is actually known of her life, Julian of Norwich has become one of the best-known medieval Christian mystics, and still widely read and appreciated now over 600 years after her death.
On the night of May 13, 1373, nearly at the point of death, Julian experienced a series of visions of Christ, which subsequently restored her to health. As a result, Julian later became an anchoress, living in seclusion in a monastic cell attached to a church in her hometown of Norwich, England, and devoting herself to a life of prayer, contemplation, and occasionally offering counsel to visitors at her window.
It is there that Julian wrote down her visions in what has become one of the most well-known and accessible texts of Christian mysticism, Revelations of Divine Love. In her writing, Julian speaks profoundly and with deep sophistication on the motherhood of Jesus, which we appropriately hear on this Mother’s Day.
As Julian writes: “So [Jesus] sustains us within himself in love and was in labor for the full time until he suffered the sharpest pangs and the most grievous sufferings that ever were or ever shall be, and at the last he died. And when it was finished and he had borne us to bliss, even this could not fully satisfy his marvelous love … He could not die any more, but he would not stop working. So next he had to feed us … The mother can give her child her milk … but our dear mother Jesus can feed us with himself, and he does so most generously and most tenderly with the holy sacrament which is the precious food of life itself.”
Julian offers us a more expansive image of God beyond “traditional” theology, and yet her writings are ancient. Julian’s description of mother Jesus shows us a dimension of God often overlooked. A view of God that is more expansive and inclusive and that opens up our imagination about who and what God can be.
All too often, we have a tendency to create God in our own image, as Christian writer Anne Lamott might put it, constricting who or what God can be. God who is “Father.” God who is “He.” God who uses only one set of pronouns. And when we do that, we do God a disservice. As though somehow God can be limited by the ways humans have described God.
To be clear, there is nothing wrong with the descriptions and names we use for God, including God the Father. What is problematic is when we decide that that is all God is.
Each of us, from our own life experiences, gravitates toward different descriptions and names for God – and that’s okay.
Julian offers us “Mother Jesus.”
Jesus himself offers us the “Good Shepherd”:
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep …
I know my own, and my own know me …
I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also…”
There is something so tender in that, so deeply relational, as the writer of John’s gospel is all about.
It’s not unlike Julian, so many hundreds of years later, allowing us to continually experience God in new and fresh ways:
the Good Shepherd
who brings us into the fold,
the Mother who bears us into joy,
the Goodness and Mercy
who chase after us all the days of our life.
“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.”
When other voices that compete for our attention tell us we are not good enough, that we are not worthy, that we are not loved for who we are…
There, sounding above them all, is the singular voice of the Good Shepherd … our Mother, our Father, our Parent, our Sibling, our Friend, our Companion …
… who calls us by name, who invites us into the fold, who comes after us when we wander, whose love for us will stop at nothing …
… and who cannot be contained by the limits of our language and our imagination in the ways that They continually show up for us and show us Their Love.