Exodus 2:1-10; Psalm 34:11-20; Colossians 3:12-17; Luke 2:33-35
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
We Anglican women are lucky here in Switzerland. We get two chances to be remembered by our families: today, following the Anglican Lectionary, and then in May, when Switzerland celebrates Mother’s Day. I am potentially even luckier, as my older son’s partner is Norwegian, and they celebrate Mothers’ Day on February 11th, so he has 3 chances to remember me! Yeah, right.
And yet, as we know, this day in the calendar of services is not just about mothers, important though it is to give thanks for all that all our parents or significant adults do and have done for us. A chance to say “Thank you” to them and to God for them is no bad thing. This day is much more than that, it is special in so many ways. To remember our baptism churches and communities; to remember the family of Christ, of which we are all members.
And yet, the Old Testament and Gospels today do focus on women, and their response to situations. Just look at what is happening in the story of Moses. Moses’ very life depends on the women he encounters as a baby. Moses’ mother, for whom the threat of the soul-piercing sword is also present as she is caught between giving up her son to death at the hands of the Egyptians, by order of the Pharaoh, or putting his life at the mercy of the river, in a reed basket, to be found by someone from the very peoples who want him dead. Someone from Pharoah’s own family. And suddenly, Pharoah’s daughter is brought face to face with the enemy as a human baby: crying, scared, alone. And she feels compassion; she feels sorry for him. Her heart is melted and she rescues him and is persuaded by another, very canny, young woman to give him to his own mother to nurse! It is women God uses to move his message, bring his kingdom closer, to initiate salvation.
And in the Gospels for today (I say Gospels because there is a choice of Gospel for Mothering Sunday) again a woman takes centre stage. Both are about Mary: In Luke, Mary is told of Jesus’ future and the challenge this brings not just to humanity but to her too: and a sword will pierce your own heart too. The other (John 19:25b-27) is when Mary’s heart faces that piercing: she stands at the foot of the cross watching her son, the one she bore, brought up, watched through his childhood, career, and ministry – often fearful for the words he speaks, the actions he does, the direction his life takes him. Not fully understanding but trying to, trying to work out what it all means. And then, this. She watches the guards throw dice for his clothes as he hangs in pain above her. And a sword pierces her own heart too. And then from the cross, Jesus reveals his love for her, protecting her by putting her under the care of another: Woman, here is your son; here is your mother. “And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.” She cannot help him and there is no sword sharper for a parent than having to stand by as a child suffers, dies. But Jesus reaches out and protects her, because as a widow with no male protection she is vulnerable, at risk of poverty, exploitation, and oppression.
And so, as those overlooked by the world in his time (and now), women are important to Jesus in his ministry. Before he is born God chooses the least likely person to be the one who brings God’s son into the world and cares for him, and it is Mary who sings of the message of hope that Jesus will bring: of a world turned upside down through his birth in the words of the Magnificat: he has put down the mighty from their seat and hath exalted the humble and meek. And Jesus includes women throughout his ministry: amongst his followers; speaking to them at wells; answering their pleas for help; letting them listen at his feet with the men or pour perfume over those feet in recognition of who Jesus is and what he is going to do; defending the woman caught in adultery. Jesus breaks the taboos around associating with women, just as he broke the taboos around others deemed unsuitable: eating with tax-collectors and sinners, making enemies the heroes of his parables and offering salvation to criminals, even while hanging amongst them on a cross. And, he forgives those who do him wrong: more words from the cross: Father forgive, they do not know what they are doing. Jesus breaks the taboos set by humans. And by breaking these taboos, Jesus shows us how to live. He shows us the need to break those taboos which separate us from each other, which build barriers between peoples, between nations, between us and God. It is not an easy way out, an easy road to follow. In the words of Paul, we are “as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, to clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” and above all love. Love for God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and love for our neighbour as ourselves. And this means facing society’s taboos and seeing them through Jesus’ eyes, through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, and responding to them as Jesus did, as the women in our readings show us how. We are to have the compassion of Pharaoh’s daughter to those we find lost, abandoned, in need, in pain, even those whom society says we should fear or even hate. We are to have the love of Mary to follow Christ and seek to understand his will, his message, and to do it. We are to have the courage to stand at the foot of the cross and witness the love of God through Christ and let it enter our hearts in its fullness. The love that reaches beyond all barriers, that breaks all barriers. We are to forgive, to act with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience: those qualities traditionally associated with mothers, with women, but which all are called to take up and do. And to do this knowing that by accepting Christ, by living as Christ calls us to live, a sword may very well pierce our souls too as we encounter the rejection and ridicule Jesus himself faced, even as he hung on the cross. Rejection and ridicule his mother had to watch and weep for.
So today, let us give thanks for all who have shown us how to live: our parents, grandparents, significant adults, friends, neighbours, colleagues and each other. Let us give thanks for the example of Pharoah’s daughter, of Mary and all the women who followed Christ to the foot of the cross and who were greeted by him after his resurrection. And let us take up our cross, follow Jesus and act towards each other and all God’s people with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience and above all love, as Mary did: she gave her body for God’s shrine, her heart to piercing pain, she knew the cost of love divine when Jesus Christ was slain.
Revd Jackie Sellin