A Few Unlikely Godmothers

My first sermon ever was preached on Mother’s Day 11 years ago, when I was about 11 months pregnant with The Princess. The senior pastor thought it would be “appropriate” to have the pregnant seminarian preach on Mother’s Day. As nauseating as I found the whole notion on some level, I did preach.

It was Year C, and it was the Fifth Sunday of Easter, which meant I was preaching my first sermon ever on a text from Revelation.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4, NRSV)

I remember being drawn to the text and yet terrified at the thought of preaching from this particular book. Most of my acquaintance with Revelation had been as a teenager. In my first year of seminary, just ended that Mother’s Day, I had taken Church History and Worship and Ethics and other assorted classes, but nothing on Revelation. So Revelation, to me, was still about Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth and a big, weird fear of the Communists!

And…I knew how hard Mother’s Day could feel in church, or anyplace “mothers” are getting special treatment. My brother got married on Mother’s Day weekend, and a group went out to brunch the next morning that included his godmother, a never-married childhood friend of my mother’s. She had been a teacher and a foster parent to a succession of Native American children, but she never had a child of her own. The restaurant was handing out flowers to “mothers,” and my father made sure Blond Brother’s godmother got one, too.

Now, that was thoughtful, certainly, but I wonder how she really felt?

There was a Mother’s Day I sat in church just a few weeks after a loss. Fourteen children were being baptized that day. We always sat near the front, and there was no escaping. I just sat and watched and let the tears run down my face.

I wonder how my mother felt, all the years she was unable to get pregnant, when mothers were hailed and celebrated on that second Sunday in May? I wonder how my birth mother felt as a young woman, knowing she was a mother, but having it a secret from most of the world?

On that Mother’s Day in 1995, I decided to talk about godmothers, about the people who show us God’s mothering care in ways large and small. I told the congregation about my godmother, Maggie, another never-married schoolteacher, the most loving and accepting person in my young life. I told them about Nancy, who sat by my mother’s bedside while she was dying and godmothered her into the next life. And I told them about two of their own, who had comforted me in the face of the terrible loss three years before.

One was the nurse who took care of me in the hospital on that terrible Good Friday. She recognized me, but I did not know her. On that awful day, I felt like the worst person ever, someone who had been abandoned by God and who surely was being punished. But under the care of her kind hands and soft voice, I knew I was still cared for, that I was not alone. She was surely a godmother to me.

And the last story I told them happened on that saddest Mother’s Day. As I sat in the pew, crying, trying not to tremble, I felt a strong and comforting hand on my shoulder. It was the husband in the couple who usually sat right behind us. He and his wife had suffered such losses. He didn’t just sit there and feel sad for me. He reached out and touched me, that man I had always experienced as kindly but not demonstrative. He was the most unlikely of godmothers.

I don’t imagine it was a great moment in preaching history, surely not a candidate for the Festival of Homiletics. But I am so grateful to have had a chance to thank those kind people and to let them know how exquisitely they had shared God’s mothering hand with a suffering daughter, wiping the tears from her eyes.

15 thoughts on “A Few Unlikely Godmothers”

  1. lovely.
    I know what you mean about the nauseating notion. Senior Pastor loved that I was up there during Advent, big as a house. She wanted me to preach on Mary! I thought that was a little obvious.
    Anyway, again, lovely.

  2. oh, praise be. thank you for seeing and calling out the fullness of mothers day, the good and the sad. and the grace and presence of God in it all.
    bless you.

  3. How wonderful this is.
    I am pondering lately my own god-people, some mothers and some not; and also the mothering I have given although I have never given birth. You put it so gorgeously.

  4. I am having one of those crazy busy weeks when I will likely get to my sermon sometime saturday night – thanks for the inspiration – and, if it’s okay, I may be shamelessly stealing some of this for the opening of my sermon – giving you full credit, of course!!

  5. tyd, you are welcome to whatever is helpful. It hadn’t occured to me to reuse this material so many years later, but as my sermon-writing times grows shorter, that’s sounding better and better…

  6. Such a mix of emotions- I too sat through a mothers day service soon after Sarah my 4th child was stillborn- it was hard and wonderful at the same time; for God reached out through so many and mothered me…
    Have a wonderful day on Sunday… we celebrated a while ago!

  7. thanks SB – thought provoking and wonderful 🙂
    I never know what to make of mothers’ day. It seems so commercial somehow, and I hate that the kids are pressed into doing something, or us for MIL etc.I did like it when the kids were little though and they made cards and things for me and for *mummi* too. They are almost all saved 🙂
    Today in the store I spotted bulbs (lillies) which were spouting and really ready to plant. It reminded me of God watering us somehow and I bought some to give to MIL – with the hope they’ll bloom and bring her lots of joy this spring /summer and to show we appreciate her a lot.
    Sometimes it’s good to give a nudge into showing appreciation – but I do really struggle with this weekend, because it’s somehow not a ‘natural’ event, but forced.
    I loved what you said about Godmothers. Both our kids’ have childless Godmothers – I think it would be good to celebrate that in some way – but not on this day. I think there’s too much pain involved.

  8. As a non-parent, I don’t have so much trouble on mother’s day – after all, I have my own mother (still with us, thank God) and the memories of my grandmothers and godmothers. But I am sure if I were TRYING to have a baby – and being unsuccessful – mother’s day would be a sore spot.
    what frustrated me a little were the occasional “marriage celebration” services that a church I used to belong to would do. I was in my late 20s, unmarried, sad about that fact. I already felt like somewhat of a “loser” for not having managed to couple. So it didn’t help me to hear the pastor say “Now turn to your spouse for the renewal of vows.”
    I realize it was self-centered of me to resent it, and believe me, I tried to be happy for the people who were married – especially those going on 50 years plus. But it still hurt a little, and made me feel insignificant in a time when I was already feeling kind of invisible and like I didn’t matter, to sit through those services. (In later years, I took to just skipping church on that day – especially the year when I had recently broken up with what I thought was a promising boyfriend. I figured that God understood, and if God didn’t, I didn’t want that kind of God in my life.)

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