The Gift (and Pain) of Love

The Gift (and Pain) of Love

Mothering Sunday

Readings: Exodus 2.1-10; Psalm 34.11-20; Colossians 3.12-17; Luke 2.33-35 (view all)

In many ways I am incredibly fortunate that my parents, my mum and dad, have always been a safety net for me. Whether it was when, aged 19, I wrote off the car he had just given me a few weeks before, and Dad left a meeting in Cardiff to sort it all out and be there with me, without even a word of anger.

Or whether it was when later on, when Evie was just over a year old, she was rushed into hospital and my Mum drove across Wales in the middle of the night and sat with us the whole time she was in surgery (Evie is now completely fine by the way). 

Today though, as we give thanks for the role our mums have played in our lives, I’m painfully aware that for many this will be a difficult day. 

For some, it will be a reminder that their mothers are sadly no longer with them. For some, it may trigger the sad realisation of broken relationships between parents and children, or even painful hopes and dreams of parenthood which are unfulfilled. 

And for others, it may be that the nurturing role, historically played in our culture by a mother, has been played by someone else — someone just as worthy of praise and thanksgiving but not a ’traditional mother’. 

So, on this Mothering Sunday, how can we celebrate motherhood in all its diverse forms? What can we learn to help us in the nurturing roles that we each play with our families and other loved ones? And how can we grow in our understanding of God’s love for us, and what this means for our lives today?

In this morning’s readings we find two newborn children and two mothers — the mother of Moses, whose name we find out elsewhere is Jochebed; and Jesus’ mother, Mary.

For Jochebed, she is bringing her son into a world full of oppression and suffering, with the knowledge that if he is a boy, Pharoah’s edict is that he be thrown into the Nile.

For Mary, while there must have been trepidation, we also, in Luke’s gospel, have the sense of joy and wonder — in Luke’s Magnificat, we hear Mary express the great privilege of bringing this child, who will liberate God’s people, into the world.

And yet there is also a sense of foreboding — in order to bring about the promised salvation, there will be a great cost to pay. We read this in Simeon’s words of prophecy to Mary:

This child is destined for the calling and the rising of many… and a sword will piece your own soul too.

Perhaps these two contrasting sets of emotions sum up parenthood — the sense of joy and pride, but also the huge emotional cost of being so invested in the protection and wellbeing of another human being.

And in Moses’ story, we also encounter the reality that not all families are the same, and not all circumstances are the same, as another young woman is brought into the story in the form of Pharoah’s daughter, to play a motherly role in the infant Moses’ life.

This introduces us to an important idea — that God is not limited to blessing the family we’re born with, but is able to, and even chooses to, bring salvation, healing and blessing through the creation of new families of all kinds, shapes and sizes.

And, of course, one of those new families which God creates is the family of the Church — adopted sisters and brothers brought together to support and encourage one another, mirroring the Father’s love of us in our lives with one another.

This is a family where the key values are compassion, patience and forgiveness — where the dress code isn’t formal wear or ‘jeans and t-shirts’, but love, modelled on the love of our Father. 

We know, and are at times painfully aware, that our church family isn’t perfect by any stretch — just like a human family we fall out, we make mistakes — but we walk towards perfection and holiness together, nurtured by the spirit of Christ within us. 

So perhaps for you, this Mothering Sunday is a day for celebration — in which case come to the Lord’s table this morning giving thanks for the wonderful gift of your mother, or of your children. 

Perhaps it’s a day to remember lost loved ones — in which case come to the table to give thanks, but also to find comfort in the words of eternal life. 

And if it’s a painful day, and you can feel old wounds being opened up, then know that the Lord’s table has a place for you as well, that our Loving God knows your name, remembers your wounds, and longs to gather you in as a mother hen gathers her chicks. 

An American author, Mark Yaconelli, writes this in his book, Wonder, fear and longing:

God knows that every human heart needs love. At the same time God grieves that most of us are not loved very well. Human beings are broken and fearful, and sadly we often show the most cruelty, anger and indifference to our family members, our good friends, the ones who are closest to us.

And yet beneath the broken love that human beings exchange with one another, God comes to us. Beneath the hurt and longing, Christians experience and trust a deeper love that has been made visible and accessible in Jesus. Christians have known, and felt, and been changed by this God-love that comes to every person unearned, as a gift.

Mark Yaconelli, Wonder, fear and longing, p.2.

So whatever today holds for you, know that God is with you whatever you are feeling, that you are welcome here in this family, and that Christ invites you once again to come and receive the gift of God’s love. Amen.