Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

"What A Mother Has To Bear"

Luke 2: 25-35;41-51

John 19: 25b-27

      This question is for you moms who are with us this morning.  Have you ever had your heart  

broken by or over your child?  A follow-up question is: How have you recovered from that? 

      I know of at least one occasion my mother’s heart broke over me.  As I’ve shared with you before,

I was no angel when I attended Geneva College in the early 1970’s.  I did some things I’m

not  proud of, and some things I later regretted.  But it was what it was.  [And on the positive side

of the ledger, that is when and where I met my wife and mother of our children, although she was

never a part of those things.  In fact, at that time, she only tolerated me for a few months.  It was

some four years later before we dated again]  At any rate, my mother received a letter one day

from the Dean of Men at Geneva College informing her that I was about to be expelled for repeated

violation of college behavioral policy.  I’ll spare you the details, but Dean Cunningham did not. 

The letter she received - along with nineteen mothers of other male students I ran with from Memorial Hall –

outlined the specific infractions.  Perhaps this wouldn’t have hit my mother so hard, had I not been such an

angel throughout my high school years; didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, didn’t do drugs, didn’t even swear. 

A week before the letter was sent, the twenty of us were called to the Dean’s office, told we were on

what I guess might be called “double secret probation,” and warned that one more violation would mean

permanent expulsion.  It was a scene right out of Animal House.  We were also told that our parents

would be informed.  I was frankly more worried about my dad’s reaction.  As it turned out, a letter I got

from my mother a few weeks later was far more painful.  Among the many things she wrote, what I remember most,

and what affected me most deeply, was her statement to the effect that ‘for the first time, I had broken her heart,

and she didn’t think she could ever get over it.’ 

      The good news and the happy ending is that I did manage to graduate from Geneva College,  

and I think my mother eventually got over it.  She couldn’t have been prouder when I went on to

become a business executive, and a Presbyterian minister, and when we named our son after my

father.  Yet to this day I wonder.  Did she ever get over it?  Or was it a lingering ache she forever

carried in the hidden recesses of her heart?  We sons, we men, compartmentalized as we tend to

be, may find it hard to understand, let alone appreciate, the pain of heartbreak just about every

mother experiences over her children at one time or another; an ache they carry for a lifetime.

      An elderly guy – a prophet of sorts – did seem to understand what a mother has to bear.  The

passage Sammy Kay read a little earlier introduces us to Simeon; a good and religious man who

used to hang out at the temple.  His greatest hope in life was that he’d someday see with his own

eyes the One who would be the redeemer of Israel; the anointed Messiah.  He got that chance

when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus, who would have been around six weeks old, to the temple

to be dedicated.  After taking baby Jesus in his arms and prophesying over him, Simeon said

something parenthetically to Mary that I’m sure she never forgot.  He said, as translated by the

New Revised Standard Version, “and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”  I think the Good

News Translation better catches the force of Simeon’s words: “And sorrow, like a sharp sword,

will break your own heart.”  Simeon is seeing ahead to the day when Jesus would undergo hard

opposition and struggle in order to fulfill His role as Messiah.  He knew that time and again, Mary

would witness and experience things, with and on behalf of her son, which would literally break

her heart. 

       Twelve years later, but just six verses further into Luke’s Gospel, we have the first and only

record of Jesus……misbehaving?  He was from mom’s point of view.  No doubt, over the course

of twelve years, the boy Jesus must have driven mom to the brink at times, doing whatever boys

in first century Palestine did to make their moms psycho.  But for some reason, Luke chooses to

highlight this particular episode.  Jesus is with his folks in Jerusalem for the Passover.  On their

way back home to Nazareth, Mary and Joseph lost track of Jesus.  You moms know that feeling of

alarm and desperation; like when your kid wanders away at the park, or mall, or Cedar Point. 

Three days they look for Him.  Three days!  Moms, can you imagine that?! 

      Finally after what I’m sure was a night and day search, they found him in the temple – happy

as a clam at high tide – amazing the Jewish teachers there with his precociousness and depth

of understanding.  Maybe Mary snatched him up by the scruff of his robe as she scolded Him: 

“Son, why have you treated us like this?  Look, your father and I have been searching for you in

great anxiety.”  Does a twelve year-old boy often say, “Gee Ma, I’m sure sorry.  I didn’t mean to

upset you?”  Neither does Jesus.  Instead, He comes off with a remark some might call “cheeky.” 

Gee Ma, “Why were you searching for me?  Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s

house?”  Luke maybe spares us some details here, as I can’t imagine Mary saying, “Why of  

course, son.  It’s chill.”  I don’t think so.  You can use your own imagination as to what Mary may

have said.  While Mary’s heart is probably not broken by this, it was a day of realization that her

little boy was growing up, and soon she would not be able to control His actions.  I guess there’s a

little heartbreak in this for any mother when they come to that fork in the road.  At this juncture,

the family heads home, and we’re told that Jesus “was obedient to them.”  But Luke adds, “his

mother kept all these things in her heart.”  Oh, what a mother has to bear.

      Over the course of the next twenty-one years, and especially the last three, Mary must have

had dozens of untold heartbreaks, starting with her son almost being thrown off a cliff after

preaching His first sermon at the synagogue in His hometown.  She was so proud earlier that day.

As His popularity, and His opposition, grew, we can only guess the talk she heard about her boy. 

Some of it no doubt made her happy and proud.  Much of it must have horrified her as Jesus put

Himself in harm’s way on an almost daily basis; wolfing at the Pharisees; hanging out with tax

collectors, harlots, and other shady characters.  She surely heard words of harsh criticism coming

from respected religious leaders, neighbors, friends, even family.  She would have caught wind of

death threats made against Him, and of plots to destroy Him.  There would be times when Jesus

seemed to care more about others than about His own kin, calling everyone who obeyed God His

mother and His brothers. 

      Yet in terms of heartbreak, nothing could be worse than what we read about in John 19.  It is

the only of the four gospels which puts mother Mary at the foot of the cross, gazing up at her son

as He endured unimaginable pain; slowly bleeding to death, struggling for every breath. What

could be worse?!  Even with the assurance that she would be taken care of by other disciples,

nothing could blunt the sharpness of the sword which pierced her heart in those hours; an image

and a sorrow she would carry forever; I would suggest even after her dear Son’s resurrection;

even unto her own death.  Oh, what a mother has to bear.

     I’m not a mom. Compartmentalized as I am, I cannot fully understand or appreciate what only

a mother can.  Yet I saw it in my mother as she agonized over my every decision, and worried

about my every step, and had her heart broken over my ignorance and foolishness.  I see it in my  

 wife who deals with the emotional aches and pains of her children, carrying them all in her heart,

in a way I never could.  Many mothers hearing this sermon, this very day, are struggling with

swords of a hundred casts piercing your hearts; with heartbreaks that seem to be part and parcel

of the high calling of motherhood.  We certainly see it in Mary, the very mother of our Lord Jesus

Christ.  Going back to our original questions, I’m pretty sure that every mom within the sound of

my voice has had her heart broken over or by a child at one time or another.  And there’s probably no

fully recovering from it.  It’s akin to grief.  At best we adjust.  But we live with it for the rest of our lives.

      So moms, how can we thank you enough?  That you would carry such weight, even from the

months before you delivered us into this world.  While your calling can at times be intensely

painful, know how loved and appreciated you are.  I have no doubt Mary went on to glory; reunited with

the Son over whom she grieved, and rewarded beyond measure for the burden she and every mother

has to and willingly bears, out of love; kinda like God’s love for us. This glory and reward is the destiny

every faithful mother has to look forward to at the end of the long day.  

 Almighty God, You who guide us and provide for us like a loving Father; You who nurture and

bear our wounds, and carry our sorrows like a loving Mother, we thank You for a mother’s love,

and for this day that we honor them all.  Fill our hearts with appreciation as You fill their hearts

with joy.  We pray it in Mary’s Son’s name.  Amen.