On May 9, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson, signed a presidential proclamation (No. 1268) officially designating the second Sunday in May to be Mother’s Day. The proclamation directed that the American flag be flown at government buildings in honor of mothers, and it encouraged all people in the United States to fly the flag “as a public expression of our love and reverence for the mothers of our country.”[i] The early impetus behind the movement for a national recognition of a Mother’s Day in the United States was the desire to foster peace and healing through reconciling mothers on both sides of the American Civil War (1861-65) who had lost sons. Such was the work of Anna Garvis.
My readings in the Gospel of John over Easter coupled with thinking about Mother’s Day led me to consider Jesus’ relationship with his mother. There are a number of passages that specifically mention Mary. Mary is central in the birth and early childhood narratives found in Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2. Luke 2 also tells the story of Jesus at the temple at age 12 where he was unwittingly left behind by his parents. John 2 records the interaction of Mary and Jesus when he turned water into wine during a family wedding feast. Mark 3 tells of Jesus’ family coming to get him because they thought he had lost his mind. Mark 3 and Luke 8 record a visit of Mary and Jesus’ brothers who came to see him. John 19 mentions that Jesus’ mother Mary was near the cross just before he died, and that Jesus gave her into John’s care. The last mention of Mary is found in Acts 1 where she and Jesus’ brothers were among the nearly120 believers in the upper room.
From the moment of his conception Mary knew Jesus was special and she, like a new mom with a baby book, pondered in her heart all the things that were said about him and happened around him. With Joseph, Mary fled the country to keep her little boy safe. She loved her firstborn son and was astonished that he had not realized the anguish he caused his parents when at age 12 he stayed behind in Jerusalem. He became obedient to his parents and lived out his years in Nazareth prior to his public ministry. The story of turning the water into wine displays how much Mary knew Jesus – his power and his heart. It is not known what prior experiences gave her such confidence, but like only a mother can do, she used a statement as a thinly disguised demand for Jesus to take action. “They have no more wine.” (John 2:3) And then, despite his protest, she gives a command to the servants. “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:4) There were some awkward times when the family came to see him – perhaps his brothers did so out of embarrassment for the family, and his mother out of concern. Still, Mary did not abandon Jesus even at the cross where the prophecy of Simeon, that “a sword will pierce your own soul too,” came to pass (Luke 2:35). She loved and knew her son well. At the cross Jesus showed his love for her as he transferred his responsibility as her firstborn son to another.
Unlike Jesus, I was the baby of my family – the last of the five. I had my mom to myself when I was four years old and my siblings were all in school. When I was 17 and my siblings were out of the house, I again had her undivided attention (apart from my dad). I loved my mom – she was proud of me, had my back and believed in me. She believed the explanation I gave her when I got my first and only driving ticket right after I got my license (stupid double yellow lines!). The officer at Juvenile Hall, angry that my mom had not disciplined me, was not convinced even though it was the truth. It was gratifying to know that she trusted me.
I was 25 when my mom died, and while I was glad that she no longer suffered from cancer, I missed the hug she gave me at the door when I visited and her rock solid love. She called me in late November before my wife, newborn daughter and I left our home to visit her and my dad, and asked when I would arrive. I let her know that I had to delay a day due to my work schedule. I didn’t realize that her health had taken a turn for the worse. She did not indicate anything was amiss, but she knew she was dying and was trying to hold on until I arrived. It was just like her not to tell me to change my plans to get home sooner – she was selfless. I didn’t make it there until the day after she died.
We bought a Norman Rockwell Mother’s Day plate in 1979 to commemorate my wife Debbie becoming a mother for the first time. Little did I know that it would also serve as a reminder of my mom’s passing two months later. The picture on the plate is titled “Reflections” and features an older mother sitting in an attic chair next to an open steamer trunk displaying a picture of a young man in a military uniform. She has a letter in her hand and a faraway look on her face as she is lost in her memories. I can identify with the picture. There are smells, images, songs and words that still bring my mom to mind.
In Deuteronomy 5:16 we are commanded to honor our mothers, and I encourage you on this Mother’s Day to recall the best memories of your mother. If she is still living, take this opportunity to reach out in some fashion and share your love and gratitude with her.
May God’s love be richly yours in Christ Jesus.
Dr. Robin Dummer
[i] (President Woodrow Wilson’s Mother’s Day Proclamation of May 9, 1914 (Presidential Proclamation 1268)., 05/09/1914 ; General Records of the United States Government, 1778 – 1992; Record Group 11; National Archives)