What is the most costly thing which someone else has done for you? Has anyone risked their lives to save you from a burning building or pluck you from the sea? Has anyone foregone the opportunity of a trip to allow you to go instead? Has anyone loved you enough to give you their last Rolo?
You may or may not have had such a ‘knight in shining armour’ but we all have or have had mothers. Mothers begin to make sacrifices for us from the moment of conception. Once they know they are carrying a child, they realise that their lives will never be quite the same again. The special bond with the new human life growing within them means that whatever happens, whether the baby is delivered alive or not, they will carry that life in their heart for always. Giving birth, while generally safe in developed nations, is still painful and produces an amazing mix of emotions which have been captured so well in the TV series ‘Call the Midwife’ .
After birth, the hard work of raising the child remains costly for mothers. The father can disappear leaving the single mum to bring up children alone. Despite improved maternity provision, surveys show that women remain disadvantaged in the work place because of time taken out for child care. They will miss out on training opportunities and promotion. While fathers are now entitled to paternity leave and some share equally or even take a lead in caring for children, it is still usually mums who undertake the lion share of the work.
While we could debate at length whether or not we feel this is fair for women, we must accept it is reality and think today about what our own mother’s gave up to bring us into the world. I had the privilege of spending some time last week with two daughters who had lost their mother. After talking about her full life which had included a number of jobs, hobbies, a stable marriage, holidays and travel, I asked them to sum up her life. They agreed without a shadow of doubt that everything she did was to ensure that her family were provided for and that they as children had as good an upbringing as possible. Now that it was time to say their last goodbye that was what they wanted said above all else in tribute to her.
Our bible readings record note worthy mothers. In the Old Testament reading, (Exodus 2.1-10) the mother is Jochebed, mother of Moses, Aaron and Miriam. (Numbers 26.59) Her name is not recorded in the story of her giving birth to Moses and placing him in the basket in the reed bed of the Nile. The name means in Hebrew ‘Glory of Jehovah’ or ‘Jehovah is her Glory’. She is the earliest person in the bible to have a name which includes Jehovah (Yarweh), the Hebrew name for God and it is conceivable that Moses gave it to her as another name in tribute to what she had done for him and for her furthering of God’s cause. She risked her own life by not having him killed at birth at the dictate of the cruel Egyptian regime. Her action meant that Moses was raised in the court of the Pharaoh and was in the best position to lead God’s people to freedom.
Our Gospel reading (Luke 2.33-35) records the words Simeon speaks to Mary in the temple when she comes for her purification along with Joseph forty days after Jesus’ birth. Simeon has recognised who Jesus is, that he is the salvation of his people, the Jews and a light to lighten the Gentiles that is everyone else. This would not be easy. Jesus would be a sign that would be opposed. People would not receive him as God’s gift, but crucify him instead. How painful would that be for Mary? When the angel announced to Mary that she was with child by the Holy Spirit, she declared herself to be ‘the handmade of the Lord’. As she stood in the temple being blessed by Simeon, no doubt the full weight of what she had taken on began to dawn upon her.
We have talked of pain and sacrifice in motherhood, but there is also comfort and consolation. This brings us to the New Testament passage for today from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. (2 Corinthians 1.3-7) Paul does not write these words with mothers in mind but to Christians in Corinth who were beginning to find that being a member of Christ’s church, like being a mother, was not an easy call.
Paul describes God as ‘the Father of all mercies and the God of all consolation who consoles us in our affliction.’ Later in the letter in chapters 11 and 12, he talks of the kind of hardships and sacrifices he has made for the sake of the gospel. These have included imprisonment, floggings, shipwreck, hunger, thirst and sleepless nights. Paul speaks of the anxiety he feels for all the churches which he had been involved in founding, similar to the anxiety a mother feels over a wayward child. Paul also talks of a ‘thorn in the flesh’, a messenger from Satan. We are not told the specific nature of this affliction only that he had appealed to God to remove it, but the answer was ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ (2 Corinthians 12.9) Thus Paul finds his comfort and his strength to go on lies in God.
In these verses, Paul tells us how the experience of receiving God’s comfort and consolation enables him to give it to others. ‘…so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God.’ Here in is an important message. As we face suffering, hardship and difficulties in our lives, we may look to God for consolation, support and strength. We are then equipped and enabled to offer it others.
We are inclined to want our lives to be easy, not to have to make sacrifices and face up to pain and discomfort. We can easily grumble against God and blame him for the difficult situations we find ourselves in. ‘What have I done to deserve this?’ we may well ask. God’s answer is not necessarily to remove the ‘thorn in the flesh’, but to give us consolation, strength and resources so that his power is to be seen in our weakness and we have resources from God to pass on to others. Life that is placid may seem attractive, but we know that if water is still for too long, it will become stagnant and harmful. It is through the turbulent tribulations of life that God is able to support and comfort us. We then can then offer that to others.
Mothers are truly our knights in shining armour who have come to our rescue many times and made our lives possible. When we reflect on the sufferings and sacrifices our mothers have made, we realise that they have equipped us to care and serve others, especially if we ourselves have become mothers. No gift of appreciation is ever adequate. We are the grateful recipients of their care and love and the greatest tribute we offer them is the quality of our lives.
Just as these things are true of our mothers, so they are true of God, who in Christ reaches out to us in the suffering of the cross. He bears the pain that brings us all to new birth. The greatest tribute we offer to God is as we give this consolation to others. Paul sums it up: ‘For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also is our consolation through Christ.’ (2 Corinthians 1.5)
Mothering Sunday, Lent 4 26.03.2017