In 1850, Ann Marie Reeves Jarvis, grieving from the loss of eight of her twelve children, all before the age of seven, began organizing something called Mother’s Day Work Clubs near her home in West Virginia. She wanted to combat the poor health and sanitation issues that contributed to such a high child mortality rate. She organized these groups to provide care for the sick and medicine for the poor.
As the Civil War began, these women grew to understand the harsh reality, that many of the children they worked so hard to help simply survive, were now going off to war. Ann Marie took these groups of women and organized them to provide medical care to injured soldiers on both sides of the fighting. These soldiers were someone’s son whether they fought for the North or the South.
After the war was over, she began working for peace. She knew the devastation and death caused by war and the residual fear, hurt and anger which remained after the war was technically over. She began working to bridge the divide war had caused and worked to help families and neighbors, those who had fought on opposite sides of the war, heal relationships and restore family and community ties.
After her death in 1905, Ann Marie’s daughter Anna wanted to recognize her mother for the testimony of her life. On the second anniversary of Ann Marie’s death, a celebration of her, and all mothers was held at her church, a Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia.
Anna envisioned a day to celebrate mothers and to encourage and support those women who fought for justice, care for the poor and the rights of all children, not just those in their own homes, but throughout the nation and the world.
About the same time, in the 1870’s Julie Ward Howe, a suffragette, abolitionist and author of “Battle Hymn of the Republic” urged women to join forces to promote peace and commemorate that with a Mother’s Peace Day in June.
With the efforts of Julie Ward Howe and Anna Jarvis, Mother’s Day was officially added to the national calendar in 1914. (legacyproject.org/ History.com)
These women testified to the love of God through their love, actions and activism. And today we commemorate their testimony and the testimony of our mothers, grandmothers and those who love us like mothers. We give thanks to God, this day that these women have given us an example of the love of God in Jesus Christ; a self-less, unending and never-failing love.
If the love of a caring and compassionate mother can mean this much, then how much more so is the ultimate love of Jesus Christ. Whose life, death and resurrection testify to the true and ultimate love of God the Father, and which allows us the opportunity to experience eternal life through him.
We see in Jesus, God incarnate. God who walks among us, lives with us, hungers with us, grieves with us, celebrates with us, challenges us to seek peace and care for the oppressed and provides us a way to live an abundant life that we cannot experience without faith in him.
It is this faith and this desire to live like Jesus that makes our lives a testimony to the one who created us, loves us and saves us. It isn’t just our family legacy we strive to honor but more so, the legacy of our faith.
The problem is this, there are many who claim to testify to God. There are many whom we look up to, whose lives do not testify to Jesus. Unfortunately, there are those among us who’s mothers did not testify to the ultimate love of God in Jesus Christ. There are those who were led astray, and who’s legacy is not one of peace, compassion and self-lessness. God tells us to honor our parents. How do we do this when not everything we, or our parents do is honorable?
How do we know? How do we look at a person’s life, listen to a person’s words and know if they are worthy of imitation and honor? How do we know if they testify to the One true God, or to some other false god who leads us not to life, but to death?
When I first tread the story of Ann Marie Jarvis and Julie Ward Howe, I knew immediately of their faith. None of the articles I read said they were Christian. The only hint to their faith was mentioned was the authorship of a hymn and a brief blurb about the location of the first Mother’s Day celebration.
What testifies to their faith, was how they lived their lives. They fought for peace and justice. They lived out the Gospel of Jesus Christ in how they cared for the poor, healed the sick, provided healing to broken relationships, saw those created in God’s image as children of God, as their own children. They showed the love of God, not only to their own families, but they allowed God to bless the grief and loss of their own children and turn it into action.
They understood that no matter a person’s color, age, wealth, or even their political affiliation, prevented them from being loved by God, worthy of the sacrifice and eternal life God promised. They fought, they sacrificed, they struggled, so that others could experience the abundant life Jesus desires all of us to have.
We are surrounded by people who profess to testify to the will of God. They profess to know the desires of God’s heart. They proclaim God’s blessing on whatever cause they want to justify, and some will claim the name of Jesus, professing with their lips a belief in God and the eternal life offered by the blood of Christ.
So I want to propose a way, to clear out the static and noise which threatens to drown out the true voice of God.
All around us are voices of division and fear. Voices that desire to be the best, the greatest, the richest. Those who tell you that you deserve what you have and to be afraid of those who want to take it from you.
There are voices that tell us war is a negotiation tactic, and violence is the solution to hold power over others and solve disagreements. There are voices that tell us the poor deserve to be poor, people of color deserve to be feared and treated as less than, and those who speak other languages are manipulating your good intentions.
These are not the words of Jesus. This is opposite to what the life of Jesus and word of God proclaim and teach.
Instead, look and listen for those voices that testify to love, peace, equality, and abundant life for everyone. Listen to the voice of those who advocate for the same things the life of Jesus testified about.
Listen for the voice that cries out and seeks to lift the oppressed out of the margins. Listen for those who seek the health and well-being of all, regardless of their color, religion, language or nationality. Listen to those who sacrifice comfort, security, wealth and power in favor of those who have less.
It is these lives that testify to the love of God and life of Christ. It is God in Jesus Christ who sacrificed his life for those in the margins, who slept on the ground, walked dusty roads, and ate with sinners and embraced those considered unclean and unworthy.
It is Jesus who healed those with a broken body, broken heart and broken spirit. It is Jesus who relinquished his life and power on the cross so that ultimate power could be seen in the resurrection and so that you and I, sinful, unworthy, dirty and undeserving could experience true love and life.
The life of Jesus testified to the heart of God. Resurrection and eternal life testify to the power of God and gives us the life Jesus testifies to.
And the life of those who truly love God and believe in Jesus, will testify to God as well. This is the life we have in Christ. The eternal life that begins now, for those who profess the saving grace and love of Jesus Christ. It is our lives, how we chose to live in the shadow of the cross that witness to our faith, that show to whom we pledge allegiance, and provide an example for others to follow.
Our testimony isn’t just the words we say, but how we live our life. This is a call and a challenge for all of us, not just mothers.
Our children, God’s children, are watching. Do our lives testify to the values of God and to those women who were honored at the inception of Mother’s Day?
Do we work for justice, peace, and reconciliation or do we work for division, hate and fear? To whom will our lives testify?