Generous mothering

Readings Exodus 2:1-10, Luke 2:33-35

Rev Gill Webb

I have preached many sermons for Mothering Sunday but never one in such strange circumstances. Today there will be no hymns, no congregation and no pulpit to deliver my thoughts. Our church services are cancelled and mothers today who are a certain age will be separated from their children through the physical restrictions of self-isolation. There will still be excited youngsters presenting homemade cards and gifts to their mums on her special day and thank goodness for that continuing tradition. It is a day to say thank you and a day to remember the care that our mothers are daily giving us or to look back on the days long past when our mothers sacrificed so much for us and taught us the lessons of life and love that have stayed with us.

Not everyone has wonderful memories of their mother’s care and sometimes people have been damaged by indifference and even cruelty that makes this day a difficult reminder to them of what they have missed because of fractured family relationships. Hopefully there will have been other figures in their lives that have been able to offer some of the tenderness that their mother was unable to practise. We all have an image of the care, compassion and nurturing that has so long been associated with the best kind of mothering and it pains us to witness examples of this absence in so many young lives.

It is no surprise that the readings selected for this Sunday feature stories of mothers from the Bible. We will probably know the story of Moses and the dangerous times into which he was born. He was the child of a Hebrew family enslaved by the powerful Egyptian nation and the book of Exodus tells us that the ruling Pharaoh was paranoid about the dangers that this ever increasing number of families posed to his national security. His solution like tyrants before and after him was infanticide. Male children were to be refused a life and in this toxic environment an infant’s cry could herald its death.

The mother of Moses, who remains nameless, cannot countenance the death of her child and so ingeniously she finds ways to keep him away from harm for the first three months of his life. How she did this remains a mystery but like all loving mothers she was determined to protect her child from any harm. When this becomes impossible she fashions a waterproof cradle for him and hides him in the rushes where his older sister Miriam guards him from her hiding place.

Here he was discovered by a woman with the regal authority to protect him and who shows as much compassion as his birth mother. Through the courage of his sister Moses is returned to his mother to be weaned in the knowledge that Pharaoh’s daughter will keep the wolf from their door. This could have been the happy ending in another story but the day came when Moses was to be handed over to this foster mother and what a sad day it must have been for this family; to see the son and brother taken from them, away from his own people and his true identity and given into the hands of their enemy.

This same thread of maternal separation is to be found also in the early chapters of Luke’s gospel. It comes in the middle of a happy family celebration.

Jesus is taken into the temple as an infant by his proud parents to fulfil their religious obligations. He is presented with the small offering that they could afford to give thanks for his birth and here they meet two godly characters, Anna and Simeon. Simeon takes Jesus in his arms and blesses him which must have been a great joy for Mary and Joseph but then he warns Mary of the pain that will come to her in the years to come through the ministry of her son. The description Luke uses is graphic: ‘a sword will pierce your own soul too’. The future holds suffering for this child Jesus and Mary too will know her own agony as she stands at the foot of the cross and witnesses the brutal death that is visited upon him.

Motherhood brings great joy but love has a cost too and other mothers have known some of this pain; with sons and daughters who did not return from their tour of duty or suffered terminal illness or a sudden accident. Mothers have known the cost of their mothering love in many ways but also the deep joy and delight in their children.

We know ourselves to be God’s children and while we are invited to address him as our Father he also nurtures and cares for us as a mother too. He delights in us and watches over us throughout our lives; he nourishes us with his word and shows us the best ways to live for ourselves and for others. He picks us up and dusts us down when we fall. Those who have known love in their lives are able to demonstrate that same love to others and we who have been touched by the love of God are equipped to share that love with others. Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth touches on these things when he says just as we have known the consolation of God so we too may show that same gift to others.

In these days of national concern about the corona virus we are being encouraged to show heightened concern for our neighbours and friends. We are well aware that panic and maybe even self-interest has led people to take far more food than they need leaving those who come later to go without but we may not be so aware of the kind acts and initiatives that are striving to reach out to help others. Maybe on this mothering Sunday we might consider anyone we might know who might welcome a friendly call over the next few weeks or any other practical help we may be able to offer. In our prayers let us hold before God those who will be caring for the sick and taking care to the vulnerable in our communities and for all whose work is essential to the health of our nation.

As we look to a happier future let us recall the special prayer for Mothering Sunday:

God of compassion, 
whose Son Jesus Christ, the child of Mary,
shared the life of a home in Nazareth,
and on the cross drew the whole human family to himself:
strengthen us in our daily living
that in joy and sorrow we may know the power of your presence to bind together and to heal;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.

Go well.