Mothering Sunday Sermon


Mothering Sunday 2024 As you all know today is Mothering Sunday. It isn’t to be confused with ‘Mother’s Day’ which was a grieving daughter’s response to the loss of her mother Anna Jarvis – of Philadelphia in 1910. Americans keep [ whether they know it or not] the anniversary of her death in May as their day to celebrate and give thanks for their mothers. In this country, the feast is set very firmly in the life of the Church. Today marks the halfway point of Lent, and some hold this t be refreshment Sunday when you can lay aside with thankfulness your Lenten fast or temporarily take back up that which you gave up. I wouldn’t recommend doing that though, giving up something for the second time, losing the momentum isn’t to be recommended. It was traditionally a day though when servants were allowed to take an afternoon off to visit their own mothers, and also many took the opportunity to place flowers on the graves of those mothers and grandmothers they had lost, and importantly at the altars of the lady chapels in churches and cathedrals, as the focus on mothering today comes from the universal mothering of Our Lady, and her influence on the church. In many ways the experience of mothering for Mary as recorded in scripture is challenging. From the events of the nativity, pregnant without a husband, giving birth in a stable, fleeing for her life to Egypt. Then slowly discovering the destiny and purpose, even the identity of her Son – a mixed blessing for a mother, as she must for a long time alone has realized what was in store. There will of course have been the happy moments, the proud moments – after all he was a clever and popular lad. It is the trajectory of all parenthood, joy and fear and more of both, but hers would continue to a place mercifully few must go, to the foot of the Cross itself, that most heartbreaking and poignant scene, her utter fidelity and love, memorably made real in marble by Michaelangelo in St Peter’s Rome – the pieta. I want to recount to you two accounts of mothering, one biblical one modern, and then ask what all this asks of us today? Our OT lesson is that of Moses in the bulrushes. Don’t forget the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, held captive. But to the annoyance of the locals they were thriving, their numbers were rising and they were making themselves irreplaceable. As in our own day the resentment against them grew – just think of those hard-working men and women who come here to pick crops and clean cars and do all kinds of work that others either didn’t do or wouldn’t do. And it was worse the Pharoah began to make threats against them, and they feared for the safety of their children – it was forbidden for nurses and midwives to help them, indeed they were asked to kill Jewish baby boys. So a Levite woman who has given both fears the worse and risks everything to hide her baby in the hope of someone finding him who would care for him without knowing his origins. His father’s sister follows her, no doubt afraid of what might happen, and in wonderful irony the baby is discovered by Pharoah’s daughter. She wishes to care for this child, her instincts to care and protect trumping everything else. The self-same sister sees her chance and asks if the princess would like her to find a Jewish nurse maid, and she does, Moses’ own mother. So being prepared to give up everything for her son she gets to bring him up in the safety of those who wished him ill. Everywhere in this story are women playing very contrasting rolls to the men. Women protect, men threaten, their sphere for so long war and violence, women’s being the calling of care and protection. The second story is one we hear every day, and it is the story of mothers in Gaza, in the Ukraine and in the world’s darkest and most dangerous places. I was overwhelmed by the Pieta in St Peter’s basilica in Rome, the image of a mother holding the lifeless body of her son is as awful [ if utterly fabulous as a sculpture] an image as one can image. And today on this mothering Sunday we know how many mothers metaphorically and literally are sat at the foot of the Cross, are cradling their dead or dying children, and how little the world is doing to help them or protect them. We may look away, we may feel unable to help, they have no choice, as mothers have never had any choice, they are and always have been the rocks of safety, the continuity of love and care and protection. Mothering which can be portrayed through a veil of sugar and sweetness, is in fact one of the grittiest most demanding and potentially most heart-breaking of all vocations – and it can also bring joy and fulfilment unimagined too. And so what are the lessons? The church emphasizes mothering, not to detract from individual mothers who we do indeed celebrate. But to underline that mothering is something that we can and indeed we must all take part. It isn’t enough to be grateful for mothering, it is a quality of relating that must be spread to as many as possible. The pattern of mothers we have known and of Our Lady are there to guide us, but of course we also would be wrong not to admit that for some these relations are not always easy, and in fact it is others who brig the needed mothering we need – those who have not children, men young people are all capable of adding to the general total of mothering in the world. In the modern world where the pressures of life and work make modern parenting no easier, it is perhaps very pertinent to examine how we can all contribute to mothering. I was listening to the radio this morning and they were asking young people why they valued their mothers? Rather disturbingly over 75% of them gave answers which involved being taken care of practically – clean clothes, food, taxi service, and so on. Some mentioned how much they admired their mothers’ and wanted to imitate them, but I was surprised. I am far from young but my mother used to remind me ‘ I wasn’t put on this earth to fetch and carry after you’, and although I didn’t understand it then, I can see now that those things aren’t the heart of what we need in mothering, and quite rightly they need challenging and sharing. So an old festival, but forever topical!