Mothering Sunday – 10th March – Penny Ashton

Mothering Sunday

It is odd that some passages in our Bibles – often as today’s readings important, key stories in the narrative, do not have any mention of God.  It is well known that God is not mentioned once in the whole book of Esther, and yet his guiding hand is apparent through the whole story.  Similarly, there is no actual mention of God anywhere in today’s passages, but again it seems clear that Moses was, from birth, a person for whom God had great plans, and in order to work out these plans, he guided Moses from birth, and used the families and social structures that were in place at the time in order to bring about his plans.  This follows on from the theme of the readings a couple of weeks ago when we considered Abraham, and his faith that God would do what he had promised, even though it did not seem possible.

Recently I have heard several stories about parents taking extreme action to safeguard their children.  The story of the life of Sir Nicholas Winton, one of those who worked on the Kindertransport bringing Jewish children from Czechoslovakia to escape the Nazi invaders has been made into a film this year, starring Anthony Hopkins.  Sir Nicholas and his organization were able to rescue 669 children before the outbreak of the second world war in 1939.  The intention then was that the children would be kept safe for the duration of the coming war, and returned to their families once it became safe again.  Their parents had to send them off with no real knowledge of where or to whom they would go but knowing that it was almost impossible for that to be worse than what seemed to be coming. 

I have also recently both watched and read stories of evacuee children from the large industrial and port cities in this country to the countryside where it was believed they would be safe from the expected bombing.  Again, they were able to take very few belongings, and were loaded on to trains wearing luggage labels bearing their names, not knowing where or to whom they would be going, or indeed when they might return.  This was made harder for the parents, when it was almost a year later that the blitz started in full, and during that time, some made the decision to fetch their children home again.  Parents have taken and continue to take extreme risks to ensure the safety of their children.  I am sure that similar – often heart-breaking decisions are being reached, even now in Ukraine and Gaza if it is possible.

Our first reading today is another similar account of a mother who was prepared to deprive herself of her much loved baby, in the hope of possibly ensuring his safety.   It is a story I love, as it involves resourceful women getting the better of the unjust and cruel actions of the ruler of the state.  The first of the women to outwit the king were the Hebrew midwives, who were given the task of killing any male baby that they delivered to Hebrew women.  This order they bravely disobeyed, and when questioned by the king had their story ready prepared that they were unable to get to the Hebrew women in time.  It is good that it is recorded that God blessed the midwives for their act of courage.  It is also my guess that a great many small boys at that time were disguised as girls for as long as it was possible.

 Although we do not know any details of the princess in the story, my commentary tells me that it is not impossible for it to have been Hatshepsut, as the dates are coincidental.  She went on to become both regent, and subsequently pharaoh in her own right.  She would also have been strongminded enough to defy the Pharaoh of the time, and she later presided over a great deal of building work, all of which fits with the Exodus narrative. 

 Some of the language used in this story is also interesting.  The phrase used when describing Moses – that his mother saw that he was a fine child, is the same as used only once elsewhere in our bibles, in the creation story when God looked upon all he had made, and it was very good.  This was obviously a baby that God had his eye on from the beginning.

The language used to describe Miriam, implies that she would have been in her early to mid teens at this time, and she too shows herself to be both brave and resourceful, and as soon as she saw that the princess had found herself in charge of a baby that she wanted to keep, but that was both illegally alive and also – as babies often are – was crying lustily.  It would have been out of the question for a high-born woman such as the princess to nurse or care for the baby herself, however determined she was to keep him, and so Miriam’s offer – to fetch a Hebrew woman to nurse him was perfectly timed.  And in Miriam’s eyes, who better to do this than the child’s own mother.  The outcome of the story of resourceful thinking, and possibly some careful planning was that Moses’ mother not only received her baby back, under the protection of the princess, and with the instruction to care for him, but also that she would be paid to do so.  As we would say nowadays – result!

Our gospel reading today also tells of a more famous mother, but also one who is doing her best to ensure that her child has the best possible start in life.  We know little or nothing of Mary’s early life, except that she ‘found favour with the Lord’.  This implies that she was devout in her religious observance, and this is born out by her obedience both to God, and under the law in the stories we read at Christmas and at Candlemas.  Today’s gospel reading takes only the very last part of that story – a part that sometimes gets missed out, of Simeon’s words of prophecy to her of what is to come.  The child will bring about national and religious turmoil, and acute pain to his mother.  She is being warned that she will need all her strength, and the support of her faith in God to get through what is to come.  Like the women from our first reading, she shows that she is equal to the task – as she demonstrates on the occasions when she is mentioned again in the gospel stories.

There is truth in the saying that history is written by the winners – and throughout much of history, nearly all the winners seem to have been men.  It is good to know that while women had apparently little or no power or authority, that did not prevent them from using their wits to work around situations to achieve the ends that they intended.

We read in history that Mothering Sunday is not, in fact a festival of motherhood – although it has rather become that in our lifetimes.  The origins of Mothering Sunday are in the tradition of returning to your mother church – where you were baptised or confirmed, which may have been your parish church, or the nearest cathedral.  Looking at the mothers in today’s reading, it becomes clear to see why the church is portrayed as a mother.  As an organisation, even today the Christian church has little power, but it does have what is known nowadays as ‘soft power’.  We will need all our resourcefulness and quick wits to use that if we want to have any effect against the powers that we will need to oppose.  It is good to know though, that just as he was with the families of Moses and Jesus, God is with us every step of the way.