The Rev. Dr. Winfred B. Vergara, St. Michael & All Angels Episcopal Church, Seaford, New York)

Today we give thanks to our mothers. They are the ones who gave birth to us, guided us when we were young and nourished us with virtues and ideals. The reasoning we do now and continue to do have been influenced a lot by our upbringing. Some of my memorable quotations about mothers are:

1. “Mothers are sweeter than home-made bread.”
2. “The hands that rock the cradle are the hands that rule the world.”
3. Jesus: “I wish I were a hen so I can gather you under the shadow of my wings.”

It is appropriate to look at the church in the image of a mother. There are three roles that the church plays as mother to God’s people.

First role of mother is that of being a container of the faith. Without the church, there is no one that could hold on to the faith once delivered to the saints. The reason why the church exists today, apart from the protection of God and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, is that the church is a community of faith. The bible, the Holy Scriptures is as much as product of a community just as this community itself is also a product of the Word of God. The word ‘community’ here is very important. Some people say, “I can worship by myself alone; I can study the Word of God alone; I can pray by myself alone. I can worship, study and pray in the street, in the woods, in my house---anywhere.” True. You can be a worshipper, you can be a student, you can be a prayer warrior alone---but you cannot be a Christian alone! Christianity is sustained only in and by community. It is in community where we are nourished by the Word and sacraments. It is in community that we grow in the knowledge and love of God and fellowmen.

Have you remembered building a fire with logs? The fire is sustained by the grouping together of many firewood or logs. When you remove one log from the fire, it will become an ember and finally would die. Put it back into the collection of logs on fire and it will catch a new fire. This is the same with a Christian. Remove him from the community and eventually his faith will die; put him back into the community of faith and he will be revived. The church is a mother that nourishes and sustains and contains our Christian faith.

Second role of the mother is that of being creative. The image that I have in mind is that of a womb. It is round. The round figure symbolizes creativity, boundless creativity. The mother is creative not only in giving birth to new ideas and new ideals but also resourceful in order for her children to survive the trials that they face. I remember that when we were children, it was my mother who was so creative in doing things, in order for us to survive the hard times. When my father’s income was not enough to sustain us, my mother made and sold rice cakes. When we had no more food to eat, she would gather root crops from the banks of the river and cook them to feed us. In the hymnal we have this song, “The Church’s One Foundation” and it says about the church,

“Elect from every nation, yet one o’er all the earth, her charter of salvation, one Lord one faith one birth; one holy name she blesses, partakes one holy food, and to one hope she presses, with every grace endued.”

While God is often portrayed as Creator, it is also appropriate to say that the Church, the People of God, as “creating.” In other words, God’s creative activity continues through the Church. The church continues to create and re-create community in order to respond to the changing times. Recently at the Summit on Domestic Poverty held in Newark, the Episcopal Media presented a documentary about the church in Texas. By the way, the name of the Church is St. Michael & All Angels Episcopal Church in Dallas. It is one of the largest and richest churches in the Episcopal Church with over 7,200 members. It took on itself a mission to the poorest neighborhood in Dallas and renamed it Jubilee Park. It is around 62 blocks of rundown houses, most Black and Latino neighborhood living in abject conditions: joblessness and despair, poor families, young people and children in danger of drugs, prostitution and violence. St. Michael & All Angels committed its vast financial resources to uplift the neighborhood in partnership with its community leaders and transformed this blight neighborhood into a new point of light.

This leads us to the third role of the church, that of being a beacon of hope. The church is a point of light because she has been through the darkness. In the history of Christianity, the church suffered hardships, toils, persecutions and martyrdom. The blood of the martyrs from Jerusalem to Judea to the Middle East to Arica, Asia and Europe has become the seeds of the church throughout the world. But amidst the darkness of the world and the brokenness of the human spirit, there is the constant longing for liberation, the constant longing for freedom, the constant longing for salvation.

“Though with a scornful wonder men see her sore oppressed, by the schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed; yet saints their watch are keeping, their cry goes up how long? And soon the nigh of weeping, shall be the morning of song.”

The angel spoke to Mary about the role she had to play as mother to the Christ child, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God…the Holy spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” Mary said, “I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to thy word.”

Mary would soon find out that with rare privilege also goes tremendous responsibility. The holy gospel records the prophetic word of Simeon about the suffering that both mother and Son. Simeon was a righteous and devout man in Jerusalem. It was revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord. When the child Jesus was brought for presentation in the temple, Simeon was moved by the Holy Spirit to bless the Child to be “a revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of Israel.” But he also added this word to Mary: “Your child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul also’ (Luke 2:34-35).

If the Church is the model of Mary, then the church is not exempt from the trials and tribulations of the mother. “A sword will pierce you own soul, also.” But amid that trial and tribulation is the hope that in the final analysis, the night of weeping shall be morning of song. This is the reason why I never lose hope that despite the many problems in the church, the church will be able to rise up. Popes, bishops, priests, deacons, lay leaders may come and go but the church will remain. “For where two or three are gathered in My Name, there I am in their midst,” Jesus said. The fourth verse of the hymn, “The Church’s One Foundation” says: “Mid toil and tribulation and tumult of her war. She waits the consummation of peace forever more. Till with the vision glorious, her longing eyes are blessed, and the great Church victorious shall be the Church at rest.” Amen.

© 2007 St. Michael & All Angels Episcopal Church