Acts 16:9-15

Sixth Sunday of Easter or Mother’s Day? 

It’s not a trick question. But it can be a tiresome one, especially if you’re a church leader who has fought too many battles over “Easter People, Raise Your Voices” vs. “Faith of Our Mothers.”

In recent years, the controversy over incorporating this Hallmark holiday into the Sunday liturgy has centered mostly on how to do it in ways that acknowledge previously-ignored complexities: women struggling with infertility or the loss of a child; those who opt out of  motherhood entirely; distant, absent, or abusive mothers. Many denominations now have litanies and prayers that cover these real-world contingencies.

But for many, Mother’s Day is symptomatic of a more serious ailment: the uncritical inclusion (intrusion) of civic and cultural observances in the Church’s worship. You can shortshrift Epiphany, maybe, or Christ the King, but ignore Scouts Sunday and all hell might break loose. We may hardly remember that there’s a Trinity Sunday every year but overlook Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day, or the Fourth of July? At your peril, my clergy friends. 

I think it’s mostly a matter of catechesis. In teaching the church year, liturgical calendar, the lectionary–in a variety of settings and over the long haul–people are almost always curious, attentive, absorbed, and sometimes not a little put out that “no one ever told us this stuff before.” More than one 70-something military veteran has told me how much he appreciates the moral seriousness with which the Christian liturgical tradition addresses its relation to the state. 

But it’s also true that the liturgically-correct crowd–of which I count myself a member–needs to lighten up a little. It’s possible to stay centered on the seasons and stories that shape our common worship and on the calendar that orders our feasts and fasts, while also acknowledging some of the cultural celebrations that church-goers will most certainly take part it.

Of course it matters how you gesture toward these kinds of things, and a gesture is all that’s called for–a nod, a wink, as if to say: take your mother to lunch today but don’t assume that this holiday has more significance than it does. As Christians we have many mothers to whom we are related by baptism not biology.

The lesson from Acts this week is illuminating here. Lydia–a cosmopolitan woman of means–is a “worshiper of God.” Her piety pre-dates Paul’s visit to Philippi but she is moved by his riverside sermon and later “she and her household were baptized.”

Was she a mother? Does it matter? Lydia, the first official European convert, prevailed upon Paul and his companions to “come and stay at my home.” Her material support made Paul’s ministry to the region’s Gentiles possible.

Lydia, like a host of other worker-women in the Bible, embodied not a vague motherly piety but a practical hospitality and generosity that any worshiper on any Sunday can learn a little something from.