I can’t tell you how sad Shem was when I said there was no Rainbow Church because of coronavirus. Mothering Sunday is one of his favourite days in the whole year.
‘Why do you like this Sunday so much, Shem?’ I asked.
‘It’s the Sunday when I can tell my best joke,’ he said.
I had a funny feeling I wasn’t going to like his answer to my next question, but I pressed on regardless. ‘What’s your best joke, Shem?’
‘It’s when I say “I love you, Mum. There’ll never be another ewe”.’
I groaned. ‘And what does your mum say?’
She says, ‘There’ll never be another Shem!’
‘I think your mum is right. You are one in a million. So, tell me, Shem, why do you get to tell your special joke on this Sunday?’
He looked at me in astonishment. ‘You’re a vicar. Surely you know that today is Mothering Sunday? That’s when we say thank you to our mums.’
‘Yes, Shem, you’re right. Mothering Sunday is very special. Years ago, when your great-great-great-grandmother was young, everybody used to try to go back to their home church, their mother church, for Mothering Sunday, even if they were living miles and miles away. Some of the young women, especially if they were working as servants, used to bake a special cake for their mums called a . . . ’
‘A simple cake,’ said Shem. ‘I know. I’m making one later on. The recipe looks really easy.’
‘I’m not sure about that, Shem,’ I said, ‘A simnel cake can be quite complicated. There are lots of ingredients. It’s called a simnel cake, not a simple cake, because simnel is an old word for flour.’
I could see that Shem was working up to another joke involving flowers, so I kept going. ‘Are you going to put anything on the top of your cake?’
‘Yes,’ he said. ‘Some possels.’
‘Possels?’ I said and then I realised that he meant ‘apostles’. ‘Quite right. We usually put eleven or twelve little balls of marzipan on top of the cake to remind us of Jesus’s apostles, the friends who worked with him. Now you’re going to have to be quiet for a bit while I tell you today’s story.’
Shem looked down at his feet. That’s usually a sign that he’s ready to listen so I knew I was safe to begin.
‘You remember, don’t you, that Jesus had twelve special friends?’
‘They were the apostles, the friends Jesus trusted. One of them was called Judas. We don’t know why, but he betrayed Jesus to the leaders of the Temple. The Temple guards came and arrested Jesus and then he was put to death on a cross.’
‘Is that why there are only eleven balls of marzipan on the cake?’ said Shem. ‘Because Judas did something bad?’
‘Yes, that’s right, but some people still put twelve balls to remember poor Judas as well. He was very sorry for what he had done.’
Shem looked thoughtful. ‘When I do something bad and say I’m sorry, my mum says she forgives me.’
‘That’s right, Shem. Whatever we have done, if we are really, really sorry, then God will forgive us. So how many marzipan balls are you going to put on your cake?’
‘Twelve,’ said Shem firmly. ‘One for Judas too. Are you going to get on with the story now?’
‘Of course,’ I said. ‘Today’s story* is about something that happened when Jesus was dying. One of his special friends, John, one of the apostles, was standing near the Cross to keep him company. Jesus’s mother, Mary, was standing there as well. It must have been very hard for both of them. And then Jesus did a wonderful thing. He told John to look after Mary, and Mary to treat John as her own son. And that’s what they did. John looked after Mary by taking her into his own home. They really looked after each other. And that is what we should do too, especially at this time when people are getting sick. We need to be extra kind to each other and make sure that everybody is looked after.’
‘Can we say prayers for people, and for the nurses and the doctors?’
‘I think that would be very good, Shem. Would you like to say a prayer now?’
And this is Shem’s prayer:
‘Thank you, God, for all the nurses and the doctors who are caring for people in hospital. Thank you for our mums and thank you for our families. Please, God, keep them safe and help us to remember that we are all your family. Help us to be kind to everybody. Amen.’
*John 19. 25-27