Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 14 March 2021.
• First Reading: Exodus 2: 1-10 (The birth of Moses – hidden – adopted by the daughter of Pharaoh)
• Psalm 107: 1-3, 17-22
• Epistle: 2 Corinthians 1: 3-7 (The father of compassion, the God of all comfort who comforts us in our sufferings, so that we also can comfort others in their sufferings with the comfort we received)
• Gospel: John 19: 25b-27 (Jesus crucified, committed His mother to John)
There was a time when it was fashionable to make fun of the statistics of the national census, especially those referring to the average family as being two adults of opposite sex and 2.4 children. Ho, ho, ho.
Those were days when the family was thought of in terms of a father, mother and children. Single parent families were the exception and after 1945 were mainly down to the death in war of the father. And even then the mother often remarried.
Now the concept of the family is different. ‘Family values’ are taken as being quaint, old-fashioned, and even right wing. Now the family is seen in terms of any number of adults of any kind of identity or persuasion, and children being there to support the needs of the adults rather than the other way round.
Single-parent families can become lifestyle choices regardless of the needs of the children. And equally the disappearing father at times of trial and stress only serves to reinforce the complexity and sadness of the situation.
To speak of Mothering Sunday is therefore to refer back to a different kind of ethos, when mothers in general were honoured and the Mother church of the diocese would hold special celebrations.
Many of us also grew up in households where both parents had been changed by the experience of war, and the parent – normally the mother – who stayed home coped with rationing, blackouts, air raids and the tension of the news bulletins.
This means that we have to start again in looking at the comfort of God. Paul refers to the Father of compassion and God of all comfort. As we look back at our own times of trial, we can be surprised how we came through them, sometimes aware of the presence of God in our lives and the ways we were able to draw on our personal faith.
Yet others will be more aware of the image of the footprints in the sand and how God explained that the single footprints matched the times when He was carrying us personally and our own resources had been exhausted.
Yet this is part of the paradox of God: the creator of all things and hence the creator of life and motherhood without undermining the sense of order in creation and in personal and social relations.
This is the God who in Jesus wanted to gather Jerusalem under His wings as a hen gathers her brood. It is the God who delights in variety and not uniformity in the life of the church, in the spiritual gifts bestowed on it and the spiritual ministries exercised within it. Each member of the church is different and each is precious. There is a plan and a purpose for each, and above all there is no favouritism: all may approach Him equally in prayer and in worship. All may find salvation and comfort.
And so yes, as God draws close to us in our trials so we also find that there are ways in which we can support, encourage, edify and nurture one another.
But then on the cross, Jesus had sufficient presence of mind to entrust His mother, Mary, to the care of John, the beloved disciple.
John saw in the wedding at Cana Jesus’ road to the cross as he wrote down his story and meditation on Jesus’ ministry.
It was at Cana that Jesus’ mother prompted Jesus to act. It may have been a simple observation on how the party was going – or it may have been a request that Jesus should do something, although I doubt if she really expected the water to be turned into wine.
Nevertheless, Mary was a sort of handmaiden to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and she evidently followed Him discretely in it. And yes she was there at the end, as He hung on the cross: the provider of wine at the wedding now being tortured by thirst and being rewarded with sour wine proffered at the end of a rod on a personal cleansing sponge.
In her way Mary lived alongside Jesus and His ministry in a very special way: careful not to obstruct it, and still mindful of the other members of her family. But present nevertheless.
If the issues of motherhood were simple, then there would be little to be said about them. Each of us has our own memories of our mothers and those of us who are mothers will also have complex and subtle recollections of the children at the different stages of their lives. Some happy memories – and others less so.
For us in the church we also are called to care for and to nurture one another. We are called to pray for and to support, to encourage, to counsel and yes, to enjoy the company of one another.
The church was always intended to live and not just to function or to achieve objectives. And in His final instructions to the disciples, Jesus told them to love one another and that this would be a means by which they would be recognized as His disciples.
Sometimes that means drawing alongside those who are hurt, or are grieving or are confused, even angry.
Anyone who has lived in a large household or extended family will know that this is still about relationships and the give and take in a home.
And yes, the church in general, and any congregation in particular, is a spiritual home.