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St Matthews Church Oxhey Hertfordshire

Fr David's sermon

21st March 2004

Fr David Shepherd

Mothering Sunday

Over the last three weeks we have been thinking about how we should read the Bible. Hopefully our speakers will have got you thinking and prompted memories of favourite Bible stories. Today's story of Moses in the bull-rushes must rank amongst many people's favourites. It is set for today, Mothering Sunday; because it is a story about a mother and her child, Moses.

The origins of Mothering Sunday are varied. In past times girls in service were given time off to visit their mothers, taking a Simnel cake and picking wild flowers from the woods and trees on the way home.

It is also Refreshment Sunday when the Church in her wisdom gave a half time break to Christians from the rigours of the Lenten Fast.

It was also a day to give thanks for Holy Mother Church and for daughter churches to link up with their mother parishes. Thus we might visit St. James Bushey, our mother Parish. There was a tendency to emphasise the institutional aspect of the Church as mother with the laity as 'children', despite the fact that the clergy were male and celibate. There are strengths in this traditional model but today we see the Church as the body of Christ, with all sharing in the priesthood of all believers. So to speak of the motherhood of the Church must now be to speak of the life, nurture and care that we give to and receive from one another through our membership of the Church.

The story of the baby Moses can help us reflect on this more deeply. First there is a relationship of love and commitment, a marriage between a man and a woman. The relationship of husband and wife with each other and with God has been described as a 'little church'. For many marriage is the primary place for living out their Christian vocation.

Then there is fecundity, conception and the birth of a son, the gift of life. In the Church, through our Baptism, by the gift of the Holy Spirit there is also fecundity. We give and receive God's life in all sorts of different ways.

Moses was a fine baby but his mother had to hide him. Why? Because Pharaoh had ordered that all Hebrew baby boys be put to death. So after three months, Moses' mother, in fear for his life, hid him in a tarred basket in the bull rushes. Having read Wilfred Thesiger's account of 'The Marsh Arabs' in Iraq one can imagine the lifestyle.

His sister stood at a distance, to see what would happen to him. Waiting and watching have their place in the Church. Waiting for a birth, for growth, for God to bring about his purposes.

In this case God's purposes were brought about through Pharaoh's daughter. She came down to bathe at the river with her attendants, a scene which captured the imagination of male Victorian painters. She found the child crying and took pity on him, guessing correctly that he must be one of the Hebrew Children. She decided to bring him up. Moses' sister, still watching but now seeing her moment, offered to find a Hebrew wet-nurse. Her offer accepted she went and got Moses' own mother who then was paid for looking after her own child, a delightful twist of humour in the story.

When Moses was grown up Pharaoh's daughter adopted him as her own, naming him 'Moses' because she 'drew him out of the water'. As Christians we cannot fail to see echoes there of our Baptism. Drawn out of the water we are adopted as God's children.

Thus we see that motherly care in the Church has mutuality about it. It is shared between all of us; it relies on cooperation and has a subversive quality about it, bringing about reconciliation between former enemies. In the story seven characters are involved in this picture of motherhood. The story of Moses in the bull-rushes helps us to give thanks for the motherhood of the Church that embraces us all.

That message is reinforced in today's Gospel. Six people, Jesus, his mother, her sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, Mary Magdalene and John give expression to the motherhood of the Church. Those standing near the cross were exercising a ministry of compassion, suffering with Jesus in a way that we cannot begin to imagine. Then there is that triangle of care as Jesus commends St. Mary and St. John into each other's care. So the Church acting in the name of Christ, proclaiming his dearth on the cross is a compassionate community of prayerful sharing in one another's sufferings.

Today as we give thanks for our own mothers and celebrate motherhood we also give thanks for our participation through Christ in the motherhood of the Church.


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Last updated 01/04/04 17:00:00 Author: David Shepherd