Sunday 22 March 2020: Mothering Sunday
It’s how you see that changes things
Exodus 2:1-10; Luke 2:33-35
Context: a morning congregation of a rural parish church, made up mainly of professional and retired professional people – average age is more grandmother than mother
Aim: to think about seeing the light of Jesus’ message about God’s love for us
Seeing changes things. Not what we see, but how we see it.
These boys were seen as a threat. They were different. They would grow strong. They might take over the country. They had to be annihilated. And so, they were. Ruthlessly, and systematically, they were wiped out. The way those in power saw it, it was necessary.
But the women saw it differently. Not what they saw, but how they saw it. They saw the fear and heard the cries. They saw the humans not the enemies. They resisted the massacre and fought for justice. Eventually, what had happened was recognised. The Dutch government had to admit partial liability. It was said internationally, that had this been a massacre of women and girls it would never have been told, but women demanded that the story of Srebrenica be heard. If you don’t know it, look it up.
Things haven’t changed much since our Exodus story, have they? Pharaoh and his advisors wanted to kill the boys too. Not because they were a threat, but because they might be, one day. Our reading invites us to see things as the women did.
What they saw was the same as Pharaoh and his henchmen would have seen – a Hebrew boy. It was how they saw him that mattered. Moses’ mother saw a child to be protected. Even living in the cramped conditions of slave housing she managed to keep him hidden for three months – or perhaps her neighbours chose not to see him at all. The reputation of Pharaoh’s daughter must have preceded her, for Moses’ mother saw in her not an Egyptian oppressor, but a potential ally. She placed her son at the place of bathing so that he might be found by her.
Opening the basket, the princess saw not an illegal alien, but a boy with fear in his eyes and hunger in his cry. And Moses’ sister, of course, saw the opportunity of bringing them all together in resistance to the oppressive regime under which they lived.
It isn’t what you see, it’s how you see it that changes things.
The Church, it seems to me, is called today as on every other day, to think not about what we see, but about how we see it.
Today is Mother’s Day. Despite annual reminders from persistent preachers that actually it’s Mothering Sunday, it is Mother’s Day that has taken hold and dominates what we see. The cards and flowers and chocolates and Sunday lunches at the local pub seem to present us only with the pleasures of motherhood. And there are many, of course. But, as Simeon cautioned Mary, there is also intense pain.
Mother’s Day has been celebrated for more than two millennia. The Greeks and Romans celebrated their female gods, sixteenth century English people remembered the Virgin Mary. At its best, Mothering Sunday can draw on this history, remember that God is both father and mother; remember the strong, resisting woman who gave birth to the Christ-child. At its worst, it falls in line with what the founder of Mother’s Day in America came to call ‘Hallmark Sunday’ and venerates the state of motherhood.
Yesterday, in churches and cathedrals up and down the land, groups of women gathered to resist our commercialised, fictionalised seeing of motherhood. They met in services called things like ‘Mother’s Day Runaway.’ They met as women pained by childlessness, damaged by abusive mothers, grieving for absent mothers. They met to say ‘there is more to us than out potential to have children.’ The elements of Mother’s Day are the same, but for some of us they serve as painful reminders of what we do not have. The rest of us need to look at how we celebrate in a different way. It isn’t what you see, it’s how you see it that matters.
There is a mother in today’s story of Moses. There is always a mother, or we wouldn’t be here. But Moses’ mother, as all mothers, was dependent on those around her to achieve what needed to be done. Just as her foremothers had done, Jesus’ mother also sought support. When she discovered she was to have a child she went to see her cousin Elizabeth. As the African proverb says, ‘it takes a village to raise a child.’
What the women saw was the same as everyone else would have seen – a baby. In Egypt, the baby was Moses. Pharaoh saw him as a threat. The women saw in him hope for the future. In Jerusalem, the baby was Jesus. Herod, the Romans, the religious leaders saw him as a threat. Mary knew that in him was the hope of the world.
Motherhood is delightful and divisive, joyous and painful. Rather than allow it to separate us, as Hallmark Sunday does, let us accept it as the source of our common humanity, and the basis of joint resistance to what is oppressive in the world.
After all, the hope of Moses and of Jesus only came to being because the women saw things differently.
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