Sermon Preached on Mothering Sunday 2012 at St Ann, Tottington, Bury

Greetings from the brothers of my community.

One reason for the invitation may be to dispel myths about monks and make the religious life in the Church of England better known. Among these, it is a little known fact that monks have mothers too!

It is striking that Christians have paid attention to mothering. You broadcast that here by acknowledging St Anne as your patron saint, one who will pray for you at need. The Bible as we have it says nothing of St Anne but she pops up in texts written some 150 years after Jesus as the mother of Jesus’ mother, Mary.

Something about mothering came to seem so central to faith that Christians felt the need to write about it. They wrote about Jesus’ own mother - that human relationship which formed him - but then they felt the need to show how Mary came to be this kind of mother and so they wrote about Mary’s mother, Anne.

So grandmothers are entitled to claim today as well.

Yet what is it that the Church has seen in a mother’s love which makes it so special?

 It is not that being a mum is always happy.

There are bad times.

One mother was speaking to me recently about staying beside her daughter as she combated drug addiction - and the hardest part was knowing she couldn’t make the mental change for her daughter; that her daughter had to find the strength herself to want to get clean. Yet she stayed beside her those weeks and years of poverty, humiliation and fear while slowly her daughter climbed out of the addiction.

Another mother - an adoptive mother - spoke about her little girl who wouldn’t eat; who, after an hour or more of patient spoon by spoon feeding, would sick up all that she’d taken in. She was only young and she was losing weight fast. Again, patient attentiveness - love - for that child changed her. She learnt a new trust: that love can be reliable; that there can be a place of emotional safety with its own boundaries. She began to eat again and put the weight back on.

You can think of times in your own lives when love has been hard to give.

We heard something of the bitter-sweet aspect of a mother’s love in our readings this morning. Moses’ mother finds she has to surrender him to the river and then to Pharaoh’s daughter in her protecting of him. To love him, she has to sacrifice her own closeness, her claim on him. This is the experience of Jesus’ mother, Mary, as well.

Did you hear how strange a blessing she received?: “Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel … and a sword shall pierce your own heart also.”

We used to have a sword hung up in our Church in our Holy Cross chapel. We called it a crusader’s sword - I don’t like to think what our many Muslim neighbours would have made of that. In fact it was a knight’s sword, dating from 1350. We have put it up for sale in our grand auction later this year. It was a stark visual reminder of the kind of blessing that comes to one who loves - a blessing that hurts, even as it exposes what is true.

Although that sword is not in our Church now, we have a statue of Mary there, her head covered in a cloak - a weeping Mary but the cloak is a cloak of gold, for her grief conceals the great joy of love without end. There is strength in that.

The Mary whose blessing is a pierced heart is the mother who when she was pregnant sang: God “has cast down the mighty from their thrones.”

A love that is prepared to go all the way can see, as others cannot, what needs to change.

‘The mothers of the disappeared’ in Argentina or the mothers for peace in Derry altered the world in the twentieth century. Today we have mothers in Iran protesting detentions and executions, mothers in Japan protesting about the use of nuclear power and mothers again on the streets of Derry to oppose vigilantes.

I have brought some batiks from Zimbabwe today - they are made by mothers and they are for those who have no mothers, for the neglected orphans of Zimbabwe.

Mothers can see what needs to change.  

Our first prayer this morning, the Collect, included the words: ‘to bind together and to heal’: It is what mothers do. They don’t always get it right and not all mothers can be like this but there is a reason your church - and ours - speak of mother’s love: the love that is a mother’s love goes on to the end, no matter what. In this, mothers show us what God’s love is like, God’s enduring love for us.

If a mother binds us up and heals, what does God do?

Jesus on the cross - with Mary staying beside him - shows us God’s mission to love the world to the end, no matter what, to bind it up and to bring healing: not a world that loved back in return, but a world in need.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, I would gather you as a hen gathers her chicks”, Jesus said of himself. As we prayed in our Collect, “O God, may we know the power of your presence to bind up and heal”.  

Why do human beings have to give birth to make new human beings? Why does God make us this way?

The answer: so that we can learn what it means to love.


                Oswin Gartside CR