A week ago the church celebrated the feast of Pentecost: when we remember that first spectacular, fiery pouring out of the Holy Spirit.
About 6 days before, however, there was another feast that felt somewhat neglected: the feast of the Visitation, where the church remembers Mary, pregnant with Jesus, visiting Elizabeth, who was pregnant with John the Baptist.
I’m not sure why it’s largely ignored. It’s about Mary so perhaps it’s a Protestant knee-jerk reaction to her. I don’t know. But I am encouraged by the testimony recorded in Luke’s Gospel of two mothers quietly rejoicing together.
Mums are often unable to be a part of church gatherings. When my first child was a baby and I often found myself alone, people said it was “only a season”. Now after three children with various needs, that season for me has been a quarter of my life, half of my adult life, when I am unable to join in on most things. Prayer meetings and seminars are often scheduled at night when most children need to be sleeping. Church services can’t be relied upon to be uninterrupted. Even weekday gatherings are largely impossible when the kids refuse to go to Sunday school or Creche. Meaty Biblical studies favour those who can sit still and be quiet. Those who can’t need taking care of. So like the temple rules of old, we’re at the back. Far away.
And it’s at a time when we are entrusted with teaching. We are the Loises and Eunices of today. Our lives shape the brains of the future church leaders.
For most people, church is being together in a diverse gathering, encouraging each other, being ministered to by ordained clergy, taking part in liturgy.
The mum’s church however, is praying over the phone, short WhatsApp requests and quick conversations. It is in the back garden. It is at the dining room table as she takes on the teaching herself.
It is in the hidden places. But what makes all the difference is this: Jesus is there too.
Those chosen mums met unseen and rejoiced quietly together – mums who might have been isolated for similar reasons. Jesus visited them and their joy was expressed in worship.
Whatever is lacking in the church is more than made up for by direct access to God himself, who has visited and will visit us, like a brilliant, glorious dawn from on high (Luke 1:78). He is present in the quiet worship and rejoicing of mums.
“Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill what he has spoken to her!”” (Luke 1:45)
Malcolm Guite sums this up beautifully in his Sonnet for the Visitation.