Sunday 19th March 2023 Exodus 2.1-10, Colossians 3.12-17, John 19.25b-27
May I speak in the name of God, Creator, Redeemer, and Spirit of life,
Over the past few weeks, I have had a string of emails from shops and restaurants asking me if I wanted to opt out of Mothers' Day marketing. At first sight I found this rather startling. After all, no one has ever offered me the choice to opt out of Christmas marketing, which personally I find much more stressful. But it is a timely reminder that today's celebration is complicated and that for many people, for many different reasons, it can give rise to feelings of hurt, grief, loss or regret.
So I think it is very important that we make this a day on which we celebrate motherhood in its broadest sense, giving thanks for caring, nurturing and supportive love wherever we have found it in our lives. Our Bible readings today give us examples of unconventional relationships sustained by that kind of motherly love. The story of Moses in the bullrushes has always been a favourite of mine, because as a girl I loved the picture in my Children's Bible of a chubby, gurgling, very Anglo-Saxon baby in his basket gazing up at a wonderfully glamorous woman draped in jewels and feathers. But in fact there is nothing sentimental about this story. Pharoah's daughter was doing something amazingly risky and radical, disobeying her father - who had ordered all Hebrew boys to be killed - to adopt a child of a different race from a persecuted slave community, and to bring him up as her own son. And in our Gospel reading we see Jesus, hanging on the cross in great pain, entrusting his mother and his beloved friend to one another's care, making sure that neither will be left alone when he is gone.
These stories reflect the very nature of the God we worship because, without getting into any tiresome arguments about pronouns, it is clear that the God whom Jesus invited us to call Father also loves us as a mother. We can see this echoing through the Bible. Here, for example, is God speaking through the prophet Hosea: 'When Israel was a child, I loved him… It was I who taught Ephraim to walk. I took them up in my arms…I led them with cords of human kindness and bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheek. I bent down to them and fed them.' And here is Jesus mourning over Jerusalem: 'How often have I wanted to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing'.
So we should see this love reflected in our church communities, in the way we care not only for the children among us but for each other as adults too. This, after all, was the original focus of Mothering Sunday. It was a day on which young people in domestic service could visit their mother church, the church in which they had been baptised.
Last Sunday, I had a powerful reminder of how significant the motherly care of a church community can be when I was invited to preach at the Chapel Royal in Brighton. This is a church in the city centre which welcomes everyone, but has a particular mission to migrants and refugees. When people are invited to pray the Lord's prayer in their first language, there is a wonderful symphony of different voices. It was heart-warming to hear so many there describing the church as their home and their family. After the service, one young woman from Finland took me to meet an elderly couple and said proudly 'These are my English grandparents'.
So I pray that today we too here at St Anne's might embody the words of St Paul in our reading from his letter to the Colossians: 'Above all, clothe yourselves in love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts, to which indeed you were called as one body. And be thankful.'