April 11, 2017
Mothering Sunday Sermon
When I was a curate, there were always a few Sunday’s that fell to me to preach on, because I now know they were potentially tricky – and one of them was Mothering Sunday, because in some ways it is difficult to pin down, can be easy to sentimentalise, and can potentially exclude. However this year I have been helped by a trip to Iona a few weeks ago. I felt it was important to get a sense of the spirituality and roots of St. Columba before coming here and hopefully gain some inspiration. I was not disappointed as for a few heavenly, peaceful hours I sat alone in a small alcove in the church looking out to sea and read through a series of meditations and prayers, one for each day of the 31 days in a month. And one of the common themes throughout these meditations and prayers was an honouring of the feminine spirit; and I think today it would be good today on mothering Sunday, especially with all that has happened with the recent appointment/or non appointment of a new diocesan bishop in Sheffield, to honour the Feminine spirit.
And I want to do this by using a beautiful description that I found in this Iona book of prayers and meditations, which can be found on the notice sheet, which It is a very rich quote which I think is a fantastic description of motherhood but not exclusive to motherhood:
The feminine spirit, which is not synonymous with being female, has a certain familiarity with the roots and springs of life, of the basic elements of earth, fire, air and water: a certain attentiveness to the flow of time and the harvesting of life’s fruit. The feminine spirit waits in readiness to inject breath into the clay of existence and to humanise the daily affairs of life.
This rich quote speaks of the feminine spirit being at the source, the beginning, the birthing of life, a spirit that does not seeks to transcend the world but a spirit that is earthed in the reality and the emotion of our world. It is described as an attentive spirit that, cares and nurtures, and yet is sensitive to time – that knows when to watch and wait and when to harvest. And I particularly love the last sentences: The feminine spirit is one that is relational and breathes life and humanises the everyday and ordinary. Again a lovely description of motherhood.
This description also links well with the baptism we enjoyed last Sunday where we as Church community, along with friends and family, were witnesses to the roots and springs of Clara and Sofia spiritual life, and committed ourselves to watching, supporting and nurturing their growth so that they may reach their potential. As mother church we would also hope to breathe life and love into their lives.
In our readings today we see some of these characteristics of the feminine spirit in action. In Exodus we see 3 woman conspire to ensure the safety of the baby Moses, after the decree by Pharaoh that all young baby boys should be thrown into the Nile and drowned. Firstly the mother gives birth and cares for him for the first 3 months, and then realises that her beautiful boy cannot be hidden any more, and will be murdered by Pharaoh. She faces the reality of the situation and with great attentiveness and tenderness she coats the papyrus basket with tar and pitch, and gently places the child in the carefully prepared basket in amongst the reeds. It is a deeply moving scene of a mother selflessly letting go of her child.
Pharaoh’s daughter sees the baby and shows an immediate maternal compassion for the child which overrides any racial or ethnic prejudice. And Moses’ sister, who has been watching from afar, shows great courage and wisdom by asking Pharaoh’s daughter, ‘shall I go and get a Hebrew woman to nurse the baby?’ To which Pharaoh’s daughter responds ‘yes’; and hence mother and son are reunited, and the mother is able to nurture her child and provide the love, support and care he needs, until he becomes a man; it is then when she lets go a second time as Pharaoh’s daughter’s takes Moses to be her son. A beautiful story showing all the best of the feminine spirit: as Moses’ mother shows a familiarity with the root and springs of life; an earthed pragmatism, an attentiveness in care; a selfless, courageous, fierce love; an understanding of the flow of time and when to let go; and an ability to inject breath into the clay of existence and to humanise the affairs of life.
Then we come to our Gospel reading, which is also a story of 3 women and a mother, who with the disciple John, stand at the foot of the cross where the pain of motherhood and the pain of the cruxifixion are brought together. We are confronted by the sheer pain of the moment – a dying, tortured son, a mother whose heart is breaking and followers who are bewildered and in despair. Once again we see something of the feminine spirit in this moment as Jesus’ mother and followers show an incredible courage to directly confront and face Jesus’ pain (there is no avoidance going on here, no hiding) and they respond again, like Moses’ mother with an attentive, loyal and fierce love that breathes life and humanity into the horrific situation.
However Jesus also shows this feminine spirit: He is sustained by a deep knowing of his roots, that he comes from the father, and he has a deep sense of the flow of time, that now is his time to die and return to the father. He is deeply attentive to the needs of his mother, who he knows will not only lose him but also will be without anyone to care for her, so he selflessly and tenderly lets her go and breaths life and humanity into her pain, when he says, ‘Dear woman, here is your son,’ and to John, ‘here is your mother.’ Jesus, like he always does, is able to create life, beauty and new beginnings out of death, darkness and pain. It is a story that has brought huge comfort and solidarity to those mothers, throughout our world who have lost their sons and daughters, to war, famine, natural disasters and cruel inhumane regimes.
So today let us honour this feminine spirit, by being a community that is familiar with the roots and springs of life (something I believe comes through prayer, particularly contemplative prayer), let us be a community that shows an attentiveness in our care and nurture to one another and those who come to us at church and in our work, and let us be a community that is aware of the flow of time and the harvesting of life’s fruit. And above all let us be a community ready to live out our faith in the reality of our world and endeavour to inject breath into the clay of existence and to humanise the daily affairs of life. Amen