Mothering Sunday, 6th March 2016
Preacher Canon Robert Titley, Treasurer
Question: 'Who's holding the baby?'
Previously in the book of Exodus - the Israelites are slaves in Egypt, and the Pharaoh is worried that there are too many of them, so he issues a terrifying order, that all male Israelite babies should be killed. One couple has a baby boy, and they hide him in a waterproofed basket in the river. Whose holding the baby now? No-one - but the boy's sister keeps an eye on him. The Pharaoh's daughter walks by the river, sees the basket, sends a slave to get it, and sees what's inside. Whose holding the baby now? A princess (or rather, her maid, as she is uber-posh). Then, up pops the sister, who says, 'You look like you need a nanny. Shall I sort that for you?' and comes back with the perfect candidate. Whose holding the baby now? The baby's own mother, masquerading as a childcare professional. The princess calls the baby Moses - a play on the Hebrew word to ‘draw’ - because she ‘drew’ him out of the water (think 'Paul' and 'pull' in English).
To be a mother - to be the person we give special thanks for this Mothering Sunday - is a unique calling, and at its heart is the nurturing of new life. But the only way Moses' mother can nurture her new child is first by losing him, then by sharing his care with others. And there will come that terrible moment when she has to let him go again and hand him back to the princess, or else her cover will be blown.
For many in our world, a new birth on this Mothering Sunday will be an event clothed in fear, just it is for Moses’ parents, because of the threats that surround them. In this country, thank God, children are not usually born in such danger. Even so, it's still true that to give the best care to a child, the mother (or whoever is the main carer) will need to share that care with others: with a partner, with sisters, brothers, grandparents, friends, with playgroup leaders, childminders, nannies, teachers, and others. And that sharing means that this day is for them too.
The high street calls today Mother's Day, a day for a particular person whose offspring can then be persuaded to buy her cards and flowers and chocolate. And you either are that person or you aren't; you're either in or out. The Church, however, calls today Mothering Sunday, a day for particular people (mothers), but also a day to celebrate - what? - an activity, a role, a way of being that is open to anyone who is called to nurture another’s life.
We all know the difference between '-er' and '-ing'. Someone's wants you to be in an am dram show and you say, 'I'm not really a singer but, OK, I'll do some singing;' or if they want help doing up their new place up and you say, 'I'm not a painter but I'll do some painting;' and so on with decorat-or/ing and walk-er/ing (it doesn’t work so well with solicitors). Today, then, is not just about 'What am I?' but 'What am I open to?' Who is God calling me to care about, to help nurture?
The Exodus reading directs us to young people. If you are a young person in our Cathedral or its school, then mothers, fathers and many others share in the sacred task of nurturing you and helping you have a sense of God in your life. These are the people - some paid, some volunteers - who teach and train and look after the boys and girls of our Choir and Junior Choir, and among our servers and readers; who lead and help with our Sunday Club; who work with the dozens - sometimes hundreds - of children from schools who each week come to this place.
If you are in that number, this is also a day when we thank God for you. If you are not, this is a day to remember that they need you: they need your prayers, your thanks, your encouragement; they need your money (ideally through our planned giving scheme); and in the case of Sunday Club, from some of you they need a willingness to be in that number, to let your time and your gifts be joined with theirs for this great work. How to respond? There is a simple way to discover whether God is calling you to something: inform yourself; pray, talk to other people - ‘Is this for me or not?’; then (depending on the answer) act.
There is another strand to the Exodus story. Unlike the young people I have just described, the baby in the basket is a stranger and a foreigner to the person who pulls him out of the water. So where is our equivalent of Moses?
This very morning, desperate parents will launch children on to the waters of the seas that lap our continent, in the hope of a life and a future. Many will fare worse than Moses. Our Governmen, having resettled 1000 Syrian refugees before Christmas, will from next month scale up the process so that 5000 a year will come to our country. Some of these will be unaccompanied children, each a Moses of our own time. How to respond? The same simple way: get informed; pray and talk; then act. There is a good Church of England briefing to help us all to do that: How churches can help the most vunerable refugees.
But today is not just about the care of children. The Gospel reading brings another terrifying moment: Good Friday, Jesus nailed to a cross. The people who depend on him - who will care for them now? By the cross are two such people, fellow adults, his mother and a disciple (this is the scene that emerges in the Prisoners of Conscience window if you really look at it).
In eight short words, ‘Here is your mother…here is your son,’ Jesus invites each to offer the other love, protection and nurture. There is no link of blood or biology between them, they have no relation to each other at all apart from both being close to Jesus – and that is enough. Notice how the writer doesn’t name either of them, they are just ‘the mother’, ‘the disciple’. They stand for more than themselves. He could be you, she could be me.
We each have our identity, one we’ve chosen or one the world gives us – male/female, mother/father, parent/not, gay/straight, together/single, child/adult - and there are things to give thanks for there, but God may have more for us than that, in the new world that Jesus makes possible, where what matters is not ‘What am I?’ but ‘Where am I?’ ‘Who am I close to?’ and being close to Jesus can make new things possible. That closeness is the very thing that Jesus offers us in this service - in the laying on of hands, and in eating and drinking at his table.
Long before Good Friday, Jesus himself looked for the help of others, and he was not exclusive about who it came from. He said, ‘Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister and mother’ (Mark 3.35).