Luke 2: 21-35
Motherhood is something that most people have to grow into. It’s a road that is paved with all sorts of good intentions…many of which get thrown out of the window the first time that your darling little baby turns to you and says ‘No…I won’t!’. Motherhood – and for that matter fatherhood – sort of creeps up on us. Here are five signs which conclusively prove that you have become a mother – which I found on the internet:
1. You start spending regular half hours in the bathroom…just to be alone!
2. You start hoping that tomato ketchup is a vegetable, because it’s the only one that your child eats.
3. You find that, without thinking about it, you’ve cut off the crusts of your husband’s sandwiches
4. You hear your own Mother’s voice coming out of your mouth when you say “NOT in your best clothes!”
And finally…the most telling sign of all…
5. You use your own spit to clean your child’s face.
This morning’s gospel reading invites us to consider something of both the joy and the pain of motherhood. When Mary and Joseph presented their new son Jesus to the Lord at the Temple, Simeon prophesied over the child – whom he recognised by divine light to be the promised Messiah. And his prophecy contained some strange words – topsy turvey words: “This child is destined to cause the rising and falling of many in Israel…” (Luke 2:34)
Mary exalted at this prospect. There was real joy in the gift of motherhood she had been given, because she glimpsed something of the potential of the child she had borne.
But there is a darker edge to the prophecy of Simeon too. At the end of his promises, there is a dark foreboding in his final line: “And a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Lk 2:35).
Simeon knows his Scriptures. He knows, for example, that Isaiah had prophesied that the Messiah would have to die to achieve his ultimate goal of redeeming Israel. He knows that the path Jesus must tread is going to a difficult one.
What Mary doesn’t yet know, at this point is that she will find herself at the foot of her son's cross - watching him die, having been deserted by all the crowds, and all the followers, expect John.
So - from the example and story of Mary, we see that both joy and pain are inevitable, normal aspects of what it means to be a mother.
There's something else about Mary's story which should give us pause for thought. Like most mothers of her day, Mary worked out her joy and pain as a mother in community. Mary had her cousin, Elizabeth, to support her during the earliest stages of her pregnancy. At Jesus' birth she had the companionship of Joseph, and the shepherds and wise men. In the story we've just read, Mary and Joseph present Jesus to the priests of the Temple, so that by his circumcision he can be welcomed into the community of faith. During the visit to Jerusalem, when Jesus gets lost, the family travel with many pilgrims. Even at the end of Jesus life, Mary has the support of Mary Magdelene, and of John.
Motherhood is never something which should be done in isolation. As a church, we have a duty to support mothers in the joyful, painful, testing, glorious calling of motherhood. Within this parish we enable lots of different ways for that to happen. Dynamo Youth Theatre gives youngsters the chance to grow through drama. The new All Aboard Club, gives space for children to grow before and after school – every day. NCH Action for Children run a support group every Friday in our church hall. The MumBaba group on Thursday mornings helps toddlers to learn music, dance and social skills. The Rainbows group on Tuesday evenings teaches young girls valuable life skills. Our Sunday School teachers, week by week, are giving support to families, by teaching our youngsters the things of God. All of these opportunities help children to grow and develop, and therefore also supports their mothers.
All these things we can do because we are a church! I feel so incredibly sorry for mothers who try to do the hard work of bringing up children all by themselves. So many mothers in our Borough think that the only additional support they have as mothers is to plonk their child in front of a Playstation of C-Beebies!. But as a church, a body of people, we are stronger together - we can support one another, as well as the local community.
I wonder whether you've thought about that before? Have you ever thought that one of the main reasons for coming to church, is quite simply - to serve your neighbour? The church's primary task - the primary goal given to it by Christ is to carry the gospel, the good news about God, into the world. (Matthew 28). Part of that good news is that people are stronger, happier, better when they live in community with one another - as members of the body of Christ.
That is something worth bearing in mind the next time you don't feel like coming to church...the next time that you want to pull the duvet over your head and go back to sleep. We don't come to church for our benefit - we come to church for the benefit of the community.
But when we stay at home, when we can't be bothered to come...we leave a gap. When we are not here, our seat is empty - and so are the hearts of those we would have encountered...including
⦁ that elderly person who has spent the week on their own, and is desperate for some human company
⦁ including that young couple who are starting out in life, and need the guidance, love and support of people who've been married for years
⦁ including that mother who has been coping with a crying baby all week - and needs to see your friendly smile, and gain your assurance that crying is normal, there's nothing wrong with her baby.
⦁ including that young woman who has not yet been blessed with a child - but who is supported through her grief and anxiety by the love of those around her.
When we come to church, we show by our very presence that we believe in community. By committing ourselves to being here we act as mothers to those around us…and we create a community that reaches out and touches others. People walking into a full church of many people will be drawn to that community.
In other words - don't only come to church for your benefit. Don’t even come just to worship God. Come to church because being here is part of your duty, part of your calling, your vocation, to be a Christian who lives in community with other Christians. Come to church because it is as church that we have the capacity to become all God made us to be – as people who need people.
I need you. I hope you need me! We certainly need each other, and mothers need us. Just like Mary needed the people around her at the birth of her son, and again at his death, mothers today need us.
So on this Mothering Sunday, we thank God for all Mothers - and for the joy, privilege and incredible challenge of motherhood. We remember that motherhood is a calling which brings great joy, but can also bring great pain...and we pray for all mothers, and those who feel called to be mothers.
But at the same time we recognise that, as Mary taught us, the best motherhood is carried out in community with others and, I pray, we dedicate ourselves to being part of that community.
Just like Mary did.