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God’s Right Hand

Isaiah 66:13;  John 19:26-27;  Proverbs 31:26;  Luke 1:46-49


Someone mentioned a new American version of the Bible that opens like this: “In the beginning, everything was created by Hallmark, and Hallmark saw that everything created was good. . .”

Friends, even if such version of the Bible exists, let me tell you something that may disappoint you –as far as I know, Mother’s Day was not created by Hallmark!


Here in the United States, the idea for such a celebration developed gradually over time thanks to a few women who were not into the sentimentality business at all. First, Anna Maria Jarvis, from Grafton, West Virginia, where she was a very active Methodist church member. Now a national landmark, her church in Grafton is called “the Mothers’ Day Church.”

Ms. Jarvis was inspired by her own mother, Ann Reeves, whose motherly struggles would later inspire her to help her community combat childhood diseases and unsanitary conditions. The Reeves family, like many other families during the mid-1800s, experienced frequent tragedy and loss. Ms. Reeves bore eleven children over the course of seventeen years, and of these children, only four survived to adulthood.

The others died of diseases such as measles, typhoid fever, and diphtheria, epidemics quite common in Appalachian communities where they lived. These losses inspired her to organize Mothers’ Day Work Clubs in the 1850s. The clubs provided medicines for the poor, inspected milk for children, provided nursing care for the sick, and shelters for children with tuberculosis. When the Civil War broke out, Ms. Jarvis called together her clubs and asked them to make a pledge that friendship and goodwill would not be a casualty of the war.

In a remarkable display of courage and compassion the women nursed soldiers from both sides and saved many lives from both sides. As if that weren’t enough, she became a genuine peace maker after the war, a time when the wounds and animosity between families who fought on either side were deep and harsh.

And this is where her daughter, Anna Maria, enters the picture. Born in 1864 and inspired by her mother ministry of compassion in difficult times, she organized “Mothers’ Friendship Days” to bring together families across the Mason Dixon line.

On May 10, 1908, three years after her mother’s death, Anna Maria held a memorial ceremony to honor her mother and all mothers at Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton, Virginia, marking the first official observance of Mother’s Day. She wanted to make sure that the work of peacemaking and the war against poverty which her mother waged would not be forgotten.


The other major promoter of the American Mother’s Day was Julia Ward Howe. Born in 1819 to wealthy parents, Julia received a magnificent education and in the early 1870s was nominated by the Massachusetts governor as justice of the peace. However, in those days many still believed women were not fit to hold office, so Julia’s appointment was eventually nullified.

After she and her husband visited Washington, D.C, and met Abraham Lincoln at the White House in November 1861, she wrote a poem, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” that was inspirational to the cause of the Union Army in the Civil War. The troops sang “God’s truth is marching on” as they headed into battle, and “As [Christ] died to make men holy, let us die to make men free.”

But as the war dragged on and Julia realized the terrible price of conflict, she turned away from the militant attitude expressed so powerfully in her famous hymn.

When the Civil War was over, she focused her attention on two other causes: voting rights for women, and world peace. In 1870 war broke out between France and Prussia. Julia was so sad and upset, she appealed to all the mothers of the world to do something about it. She wrote:

“Why do not the mothers of mankind interfere in these matters to prevent the waste of that human life of which they alone know and bear the cost? … Arise, Christian women of this day! As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war, let women on this day leave the duties of hearth and home to set out in the work of peace.”

She began organizing what she called “Mothers’ Peace Day” festivals which were celebrated annually on June 2nd. Her basic conviction was that though the world may be divided by war and conflict, there is something in the experience of childbirth binding the mothers of the world together into one family.

The struggle to gain voting rights for women, the cause of peace among the nations of the world, the fight against racism, poverty, and the abuse of children, these were the central concerns of those who established Mother’s Day.


As you can see – and Hallmark will never tell you this– longer before Hallmark itself begin to exist, Mother’ Day was already alive and well. And not simply a day to remember one’s own mother, but to find in the experience of such active, courageous mothers as Anna Reeves and her daughter Anna Maria, and Julia Ward Howe many lessons that apply to all.

These women were not celebrating the mere fact of bearing children, but what they had learned from the pain and suffering of childbirth about the essential meaning of life for us all.


In speaking of God’s love, Jesus often called God, “Father,” and even “Abba,” an Aramaic word of endearment that means “dad,” or “daddy.” But even though Jesus commonly addressed God as a male parent, he never meant to deny God’s “motherly” side, so to speak.

I’ll never forget how Bishop Roy Nichols of the New York Conference would bless us all at the end of worship in the name of “God the Father, who is also a Loving Mother to all who believe and trust.”

There are many places in the Scripture where God is seen and celebrated as a “mother,” as a “motherly” Presence.  In Isaiah 42 (v. 14), for instance, God “cries out in terrible labor to deliver the new creation of justice”. And a little bit later, in chapter 46 (vv. 2-3), our She-God suckles the newly born, teaches toddlers to walk, bends down to feed them, and carries them about, nurturing them from birth even to old age. And prophet Hosea reminds us that God will never forget the children of her womb (11:3-4; Is 49:15).

Elizabeth Johnson, who used to teach Theology at Fordham University, studied the Biblical portraits of God as a Mother. She wrote:

“The religious experience of divine mercy is made luminous in maternal metaphors. By the power of her mighty Spirit, God gives birth anew to those who receive the word, those who become her children, born not out of blood nor of the will of the flesh, but born of God (Jn. 1:13). The compassion of God the Mother insures that she loves the weak and dispossessed as well as the strong and beautiful. We do not have to be wonderful according to external norms to elicit her love, for this is freely given by virtue of the maternal relationship itself. God looks upon all with a mother’s love that makes the beloved beautiful.”


Who would ever doubt that the most powerful gift that any mother – and any father – can give us is this sense that we are loved and loved unconditionally. Sadly enough, many mothers and many fathers and many homes are difunctionally un-loving, yet even in those cases God will try to find a surrogate parent – quite often a loving Grandma or a loving Grandpa and even a loving faith community — that can give us a glimpse of how much our motherly God nurtures us for life each day.


Here I must give Hallmark some credit. Several years ago, as I was looking for a beautiful Mother’s Day card for my own mother, I walked into a Hallmark store and found one that read: “God could not be everywhere; therefore, he made mothers.” I agree hundred per cent as I remember with deep gratitude my own mother, Dora — always so busy doing God’s word whenever and wherever God begged for help!

I suspect that all of you may have experienced, or may be experiencing today, something similar — that indescribable yet awesome feeling that our mothers have been, or are today, very much like guardian angels always ready to cover all bases, always trying to meet our needs, nonstop, as “God’s right hand!”

For the most part, mothers don’t want to be seen that way, yet we all know that despite their own weaknesses and struggles, by the way they love us they help us grasp and enjoy God’s extravagant love for all of God’s children.


On this beautiful, sweet Mother’s Day, our thanks to God our Father who is also a Loving Mother for the gift of mothers, home, and family.