Mothering Sunday 22nd March 2020
(Exodus 2: 1-10, John 19: 25-27)
Choosing readings for today, Mothering Sunday, is never an easy task. To be honest, none of the choices the lectionary offers us for today are particularly easy or happy reading. In fact, they all seem to be very distant from the images we see on the Mothering Sunday cards in the shops. I also expect that for many of us today, this is a very different Mothering Sunday to ones we have celebrated in the past. We are separated from loved ones and those we care about, because the Corona virus has put many into self-isolation, care homes are in lockdown and family gatherings in restaurants are not possible. So, what is it that we can take away from our readings today?
In the Old Testament reading from Exodus 2: 1-10, Moses is left to take his chances in the bulrushes after his mother hides him there to escape Pharaohs decree to throw all baby boys into the Nile. The alternative Old Testament reading would have told us of Hannah, desperate and childless, who when she does bear the child she has longed for, gives him up to be raised in the Temple. For the Gospel reading there was either the choice of Simeon warning Mary that her child will one day cause her pain, or the reading we read in church this morning, which is Mary watching that prophecy come true as Jesus dies on the cross John 19: 25-27. These stories are powerful reminders of the cost and pain of parenthood within family life.
There is another way in which the set readings are often hard to reconcile with the popular view of Mothering Sunday. That is because they challenge the idea of what it means to have a family and what Godly families might look like – families where God can be found and known. These stories do not give us the classic picture book pictures of mum and dad and two children gathered happily eating a meal together or contentedly playing a board game. They are stories of groups of people – related or not – managing somehow, to create family arrangements that work for them in the situations they find themselves. These arrangements often seem somewhat haphazard. Fostering out your child to the daughter of a Pharaoh that has decreed the killing of so many innocent children for example. Yet despite the circumstances Moses finds a safe enough place in which to grow up – and perhaps in doing so learns the skills which God later needs him to have as a leader – because he has grown up in Pharaoh’s court, rather than his own home.
And in the Gospel reading I chose for this morning we see Jesus entrusting his mother to the keeping of John the beloved disciple. Not to some male relative, which would have been the respectable thing to do at that time. Not only that but Jesus does not stop there either, because he entrusts John to his Mother too, creating a new family for them now that he is dying.
The early Christians would have found this image particularly helpful to them. Many of them had had to leave family ties behind, or perhaps had been pushed out of their families as they followed the teachings of Jesus. Often too they knew that following Jesus would expose their families to danger and so they had to make the choice between keeping their families safe or being true to their commitment to Christ. Hopefully a choice we will never have to make but I am sure we are all aware of those that have had to make such decisions. Or those in our world who live in fear that their faith will bring pain or even death to their families and loved ones.
That is why this new community, this new family that Jesus called them into, was so important to them, despite the fact that it seemed so unorthodox to others. When the early Christians met together slave and free, men and women, Jew and Greek, rich and poor they were all drawn into one family, and it was every bit as close and committed as any of the families they can come from and so utterly essential to them.
Quite often Christianity is seen as the model of traditional family values, but actually, a lot of what we find in the Bible is very far from the stereotypical image of a mum and dad and 2.4 children. There is a huge variety of ways in which families are expressed within the Bible. After all polygamous marriage was perfectly normal and accepted, for example, up to and well beyond the time of Jesus. It was the pagan Romans and Greeks who gave us monogamy, and it is only because the Church developed first in their cultures and societies that we think of it today as being the norm.
The Biblical writers are, above all I believe, realists. They recognise that what matters is that people love and care for each other. As Jesus said to his mother, “Woman here is your son” and to John “Here is your mother”. Whatever pattern that love and care comes in is of very little consequence, so long as it works. This is worth remembering this Mothering Sunday as I expect there are many of us who have experienced the care and love that has come from those outside our own families. The love and care from Godparents, or friends and neighbours or our church family for example.
So, the Biblical picture is that families come in many forms, and the ones that work may not look the way we expect them to. So, on this Mothering Sunday – this very different Mothering Sunday – whatever form our family takes, let us remember that what matters is that in God’s family each one of us can find a place to belong, people to belong with, where we can be clothed with love, and where the peace of Christ can rule in our hearts.