With apologies for no post last week (Sunday off & I went to see my parents - hooray!); and to those in the States who might want to see a 'Lent 4' sermon - you could look at the one from 3 years ago?
Who is Mothering Sunday for? Exodus 2.1-10, John 19.25-27
So – how do you feel about Mothering Sunday?
Perhaps you feel that it’s a bit of a hype by those who want to sell cards, chocolates & flowers.
It seems today can be a bit too centred on mothers.
I would hate anyone to think today is not for them if they are not a mother – so let’s agree, first of all, that it’s about mothering, not just mothers. But even that is not without potential difficulty.
I’m very lucky that I have a good relationship with my mum – actually she’s always been a bit of a hero to me – a woman who has raised four very different children and had a career as a teacher, who taught me in Sunday school, and would cheerfully stay up until the early hours baking a cake or sewing something which one of us simply HAD to have for the morning. For me, motherhood means love, care, and unstinting support. So why do I feel so ambivalent about celebrating motherhood in church?
Because I know it just isn’t like this for everyone. I have several friends who have a strained relationship with their mother, who even as adults find it hard to cope with their critical nature, or whose mothers have died. I know they find Mothering Sunday difficult.
And Mothering Sunday can be difficult, too, if it becomes an occasion to say that Motherhood is God’s plan for every woman – or the ultimate aim for any woman. Some of us will have an experience of being a mother which is positive and wonderful, and which teaches us something about love itself: but some of us won’t – and motherhood is certainly not the only way to learn about love.
So as we tread carefully around the pitfalls of today – the possibility of painful memories for those who have lost their mother, or have never felt like they have been ‘mothered’ well; and the danger of making others feel second best if they have not been mothers, or have not found it a very positive experience – you might be left wondering why we bother at all.
But I think there is something about mothering, in its broadest sense, which gives us a glimpse into the heart of God. And since we so often refer to God as Father perhaps today can redress the balance slightly. God, after all, is not male or female – yes, we speak of God as father, but God’s love also contains the features we might more commonly associate with human mothers: caring, tending, nurturing.
Our Old Testament reading shows us exactly the sort of complexity of love which we find in God, that I’m hinting at.
Moses has a mother. She isn’t named in this story, but we can feel her love for Moses and her desperation to keep him alive. She spends 3 months hiding her son from the Egyptian people who have been ordered by their Pharoah ‘Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live.’. Eventually she realizes she can’t hide her son any longer and so she throws her son into the Nile – but first she places him in a watertight basket. Here is the love of a mother – trying to keep her son alive in the face of terrible odds.
But then we find another mother figure in the story - the daughter of Pharoah. She knows this is a Hebrew boy – she knows what her father has ordered all his people to do – but she decides to adopt this baby as her own. She offers him protection from Pharoah and a new home in the palace. And it is Pharoah’s daughter who gives Moses his name –an Egyptian name– indicating that he has been drawn out of the water.
And between these 2 mothers – the natural birth mother and the adopted mother, there is another who offers Moses the loving protection we expect of a mother - Moses’ sister. She stands watch over the basket to see what will happen to her baby brother. And so it is she who is able to twist events so that Moses gets his birth mother back as his nurse-maid. She is quick-witted and unafraid of speaking out on Moses’ behalf – and she negotiates effectively between the other 2 mothers.
Moses’ story show us mothering that is determined to keep this boy alive, if at all possible; mothering which is prepared to flout authority if necessary; mothering that is quick-witted enough to find a way to handle the situation for the child’s benefit. The story tells us that you don’t have to be a birth mother to someone to show a motherly love. And the writers of the Hebrew scriptures wants us to know that God is at work in this story – that God loves Moses, wants what’s best for him, will fight for him, will stick with him through all the twists in his life-story. God’s love is a motherly love. Motherly love, at its best, shows us something of what God’s love is like.
And the Gospel reading has interesting light to throw on this question of what motherly love looks like, too. In his dying moments on the cross, Jesus sees Mary, his mother, there; and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. ‘The disciple Jesus loved’ – who is usually identified as John, is also there. Jesus says to his mother ‘woman, here is your son’ and to John ‘Here is your mother’. I think I had always assumed that this shows us Jesus’ love for his mother, that he wishes her to be cared for after his death. At that level, this story acts as an important reminder that we should not just seek to receive love from mothers, but to care for them too.
But the gospels also tell us that Jesus had brothers and sisters – so it can’t just be about Jesus wanting to look after Mary – his siblings surely would have done this.
So what if Jesus is saying something wider about the motherly love which he wants to see among his followers – what if Jesus is saying that those who are united at the foot of his cross are, through his love, united as closely as mothers and their sons.
Motherly love gives us an insight into God’s love.
It is not just a biological phenomenon – it is something wider, something chosen, something shared.
So Mothering Sunday is not just about mothers – it is even not just about human love – it is about an aspect of divine love. And Mothering Sunday is for each one of us. It is about a love which is there to care for each of us, a love we see on the cross and find in our bread & wine, a love which reaches out to everyone and makes us all part of the family of God, this Mothering Sunday and always. Amen.