Sermon preached in Salisbury Cathedral on Sunday 14th March 2021 by Canon Edward Probert, Chancellor
(Exodus 2.1-10; Luke 2.33-35)
Scroll down to watch the video recording.
Mothering Sunday in a church service is a bit like being a mother; it all looks quite simple until you get into it. A nice bunch of flowers, say how lovely Mums are, and that’s it, all wrapped up for a year.
And then come the questions, the ‘Buts…’ I’ll come to some of those in a minute, because those ‘Buts’ are really important. However I am going to start with what goes before the word ‘But’, because it is the first and most important thing to say and hear today: that simple, ordinary, two word phrase – Thank you.
Every one of us, from the youngest to the oldest, owes our life to our mother; we would not be here if we had not been nurtured and born from someone else’s body – if someone had not given of themselves and made it possible for us to live. We don’t remember that, of course, yet without those months we each spent in someone else’s body – Nothing! Motherhood is wonderful because it shows us God, who took nothing and made from it life.
Thank you! We all need to say it – please think of your mother and say it in some way.
As I said, that’s the most important thing I want to say. My ‘buts’ are about to start. So I’m afraid I’m going to keep going a while longer. Please therefore feel free to ignore me, for a while to reflect on your own Mum, or have a nap, or admire the architecture, or if watching the livestream, make a cup of tea.
As soon as we’ve been born, all bets are off. We’ve all had different experiences of mothering. Every relationship is different, with its own times of delight and happiness, but also with its own times of sadness or pain.
The heroic families in today’s scriptures are hardly the picture of the average Mother’s Day card. Moses, born under the threat of infanticide, floated away in his own mini-Noah’s Ark, found and made safe by a complete stranger, and then living a blended life in two homes. Jesus, who called God his father, and not – at least not in the gospels – his parent Joseph; and whose mother, having taken him to the temple for a lovely blessing, is told not just lovely things about the baby’s future, but also that she will be torn apart – ‘a sword will pierce your own soul too’. The blessing and the joys come with dreadful prospects.
It’s a costly thing to bring someone up; your time is never your own, you have to give up so much for the sake of this other person. It’s great if you have help to do this, but many people don’t. All parents, at all times, are apprentices, learning on the job. There’s a guarantee of exhaustion, and unhappiness, of feelings of inadequacy and loss in each mother’s relationship with her child. A year of teaching the National Curriculum at home, without the time, the training, or the facilities, will certainly have contributed some new elements to that.
Not every mother, not every parent, is always kind and loving; and no child is always thankful. When we look back, if we’re honest we can all see times when we could have been a better child or parent, when we got something wrong, spoiled something good, hurt someone through forgetfulness, misjudgement or selfishness. And sometimes those things can’t now easily be mended – my own mother, for example, is now long dead. So it really is important to seize the central message of Mothering Sunday, and get in those Thank-yous while you can.
There are posies on your chairs – a few Spring flowers to mark Mothering Sunday. Please use it to express its meaning. So I come back to where I started – use those flowers to be thankful for life, for care and nurture, for the gift of love and the gift of forgiveness; thanks to mothers in your life, and to God, the father and mother of us all.