May I speak and may we hear in the name of mother and father God, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
The poem that we read at the beginning mentions not only what a difficult day this is for so many people but also that we have warrior Mums in our midst and the three mothers in our reading bear that out. If you are here in spite of Mothering Sunday being painful – God hears you, if you are here to celebrate and affirm positive experiences of mothering wherever they have come from – God hears you too.
I wonder if I asked you to describe the qualities of a good mother what that would look like. What would be the words you would use to describe mothering qualities?
If we are in a place this morning where we think that we have to buy into the hallmark, secular image of mothering: Jochobed, the mother of Moses, Pharoh’s daughter(who is unnamed in scripture but in the Jewish midrash it is revealed that she receives the name Bithia (batyah) meaning the daughter of God as a reward for her actions) and Mary mother of Jesus who we meet today at the foot of the cross, if you read scripture closely fits the description of warrior mothers in our midst.
Let’s think about the image of mothering our scriptures give us this morning. We have Jochobed a Levite who gave birth to a fine baby boy. We are told she hid him for three months. Can you imagine a child who is born to a persecuted race? An edict had been issued that all the baby boys were to be killed, a circumstance that Mary would face too. Jochobed hid the baby for the first three months until he was too big or too vocal to be hidden anymore. She prepares the baby to be saved, she makes a papyrus basket and covers it with bitumen and pitch. Bitumen and pitch meant the basket would float and the baby was placed in the reeds so that the crocodiles would not eat the baby. Jochobed went to real trouble to make sure that the baby was going to be safe. When he was placed in the water Miriam stood at a distance to watch over baby Moses and see what would happen. There is such care in the story. I wonder what emotions Jochobed was feeling? I am reminded of those stories from the holocaust, the scenes that we see and the stories that we hear from Yemen, Syria, Iran, Nigeria, Ukraine – people who are persecuted, making heartbreaking decisions. Families torn apart. People making sacrifices and decisions beyond most of our comprehension and understanding. What hope and courage Jochobed demonstrates. She is making a heartbreaking sacrifice in order to save Moses.
Batyah – Pharoh’s daughter takes pity on Moses. Knowing that he is one of the Hebrew slave children and knowing what his fate should be Batyah takes pity on the baby. Luckily Miriam sister of Moses is still on hand and has the gumption to offer up her and Moses mother to do the nursing which of course Batya could not do. Again in a spirit of putting the welfare of the baby first and not herself Batya agrees. Moses and Jochobed are reunited until he grows, although it is not clear what age it was when he went to be raised by Batyah. It must have taken courage for Batyah to bring the child into the Pharoh’s household as her son and not a slave. Batyah demonstrates courage, compassion, wisdom and sacrifice.
Then we the mothering of Mary in the New Testament. Those of you who were around in advent and Christmas have heard me say this before and I will repeat. Mary, rather than meek, fair and gentle in the scriptures is far rather described as a warrior for God. She says yes after pondering, she raises the Messiah having been told when he is 8 days old by Simeon that her soul will be pierced and in today’s Gospel we meet Mary at the cross. Mary having given birth to God’s son must now watch him die a painful death, her soul is pierced with trauma and pain but this mother who has more than fulfilled her role, goes on in Acts to enable and equip to be a leader and disciple raising up the early church. Her relationship with Jesus is strong and he knows she will continue his mission. The Gospel reading gives us this moving narrative where Jesus from the cross knowing the importance of his mother tells the beloved disciple to treat her as a mother and Mary to treat the beloved disciple as a son. Powerful and moving. Affirming the vital importance of that mothering role right there on the cross.
Three mothers from scriptures, three warriors, willing to demonstrate sacrifice, costly mothering, dangerous mothering, warrior mothering and note Batya does this from a place of not being a mother but taking on the mothering role.
God is a great big God – our father but not only our father but our mother too. Our Father, our Mother, our creator and our rock, and so much more beside. To refuse those aspects of God to be unwilling to see them limits God and risks us falling into heresy! Jesus calls God the mother hen gathering her chicks – another warrior mother willing to die for her chicks. In Israel there are desert fires which sweep across the ground, the mother hen would gather her chicks under her and be burnt to death in order for her chicks to survive. God is described by Hosea as like a mother bear – robbed of her cubs she will attack them and tear them asunder. As God is called father then God too is called mother and those mothering qualities are reflected in us.
Mothering then in scripture takes many forms. As we celebrate mothering today we search for those mothering qualities so that we might use them in order to love and nurture people, to include them and to share the love that we receive from the God who is like the best mother and father to us.
What kind of mothering qualities are in you? I wonder if you are surprised by the different images of mothering that are revealed to us through the scriptures this morning? Where do you connect with your inner mother? I am not just talking to those who are mothers amongst us, or just the women. Mothering qualities however we define them are revealed in our likeness to God in each and every one of us. It may be that you recognise the qualities that we celebrate and affirm in mothering like nurture, loving, cuddling, persistence or maybe some of the warrior mother images that we have considered this morning, maybe you recognise them both. We are all called to be mothers and to the mothering reflected by God as mother church. Disciples are called to mothering as an expression of Church – that is what we celebrate and remember today.
So toward the end of the service as normal there are daffodils but today each and every one of us will go out with daffodils: men, children and women. We go out into the world this week reflecting the mothering of God and receiving our daffodils as a sign of our commitment to mothering. To remember that the church is a family and we are called to recognise and reflect the mothering and fathering of God and to embrace and hold people in and through our churches. As we go we are inspired by images of God as Mother. The costly, painful, mothering love of Jochobed, the dangerous mothering of Batyah who is willing to lift up the oppressed Hebrew slave from the water and love him as her own, and the God-bearer warrior Mary who raises the incarnate Jesus and even having faced the deep pain of her son’s death on the cross at his resurrection continues in the mission of the kingdom of God. Wherever you see mothering reflected in and through you share it, use it in service of God and let’s go out to reflect mother God in and through the church and throughout the world.