A Sermon from Sherborne
The Whispers of God’s Love
A sermon for the Parish Eucharist, preached in Sherborne Abbey on Mothering Sunday March 26 2017 by the Reverend Jane Craw.
As I have looked out of our cottage window over the past couple of weeks, I have been amazed at the transformation in our garden. Although this winter has not been particularly hard, it has been very long. Even when we think it has gone it comes back with murky days and chilly winds. Somehow, the sight of the nodding primroses, the shy violets and the bright faces of the daffodils has the capacity to lift our spirits. I rather suspect this sense of joy must have accompanied the youngsters who worked in service in the large houses and estates, as they returned to their homes on Mothering Sunday. The call to attend their Mother Church and then the opportunity to go home, probably having gathered a posy from the colourful and sweet-scented lanes, must have been a liberating experience for them. Freed from their duties for a day, they would have eagerly looked forward to a warm welcome from their families.
But, on this Mothering Sunday, I wonder how would you describe a mother? Jodi Picoult describes her like this: ‘she is beautiful, softened at the edges and tempered with a spine of steel. I want to grow old and be like her.’ Others find that she can answer more questions than the average quiz master, perform several minor operations, act as chauffeur, housekeeper, freelance entertainer and footballer in any given morning. It is within her all-embracing, loving, open arms that the child finds security, growth and a foundation for his or her own ability to love. But perhaps the most wonderful gift she can give is to be willing to release her children to God. To love is to let your children be free. But as any mother knows these joys are only part of her role and as Mary heard on the day of Jesus’ Presentation, a sword may sometimes pierce her heart. Being a mother is far from easy.
Earlier this year in January James, my husband and I travelled to South Africa, first to a family wedding but then went south and followed the Garden Route. We arrived at our guest-house The Emily Moon River Lodge just east of Plettenberg Bay. It was a beautiful location and our room built on stilts was surrounded by trees where we first saw the amazing sight of a blue Cape Starling. Beyond the tree-canopy lay a meandering river where you could canoe. With a little help and much laughter I was seated in the canoe, cocooned in my life-jacket and ready to go on an adventure. Our paddles dipped into the water and James steadied my movement with his rhythmic counting of ‘left, right, left, right.’ Soon I had it and we moved away from the safety of the homestead. Apart from the dipping of the oars in and out of the murky water, all we could hear was the whispering of the reeds, the bulrushes. It was a gentle call which transported us to other lands. For a moment I closed my eyes and half expected to see Pharaoh’s daughter making her discovery of Moses’ basket, carefully made watertight with pitch to secure his safety. It was a journey I shall never forget, the stillness, the swish of the reeds and the lapping of the water. I wonder if that was the sound that the women of Moses’ day heard as they approached the River Nile.
Let us stand back and think about what the Israelite women must have felt as they neared the river. Enfolded in this charming story of a baby hidden in the bulrushes is a study of how women function. We need a little background to understand their situation. Pharaoh feared the increasing numbers of the Israelite people and declared that all boy babies should be thrown into the Nile. Think about the worries of the pregnant women, secretly daring to hope that they would have a daughter. Imagine the initial joy of giving birth to a son, quickly dissipating with the overshadowing fear of a watery death. Daily each one of these women would have relived their loss as they went to the Nile for water.
Both stories which we encounter in our Old Testament and our New Testament readings reveal the tensions and stresses of motherhood. Perhaps they act as an antidote to the over- sentimental rhymes we read in our greetings cards. These stories may be just the touch of reality which we need. Today is not an easy day for many people. I preached on this equivalent day in 2009 and put together a sermon again blending the joys of the day with the challenges of the Biblical tales. But now, eight years on, I have come to realise that Mothering Sunday can be painful day for many. In my naivety I was conscious of those for whom motherhood was not to be but over the years I have heard many other stories from those whom I serve. One person whispered in my ear after the morning service that this day was hard for her because she did not have a good relation with her mother; others were not privileged to know a mother’s love and others still were carrying a recent bereavement and missed their mothers dreadfully. I came to realise that this was not just another Mothering Sunday but a day of a bitter-sweet mix of emotions and memories. Later this morning I shall officiate at our Short Abbey Service and we will sing a beautiful song entitled Such Love. I always picture the outstretched arms of our Lord as I sing this chorus, the second verse of which runs like this:
Such love, stilling my restlessness; Such love, filling my emptiness; Such love, showing me holiness; O Jesus, such love.
Perhaps then we end as we began with the Mother Church in mind, the bride of Christ. Wherever we find ourselves this day, brimming over with gratitude for our mothers or in another sadder place, those amazingly warm arms of our Lord can hold us tight. I have entitled this piece The Whispers of God’s Love. As we step out from the Abbey Church into the light of the morning may we remain in tune with our Lord and listen out for his whispers, just like those of the bulrushes, and hear his voice speaking assurance, security and love into the depths of our hearts. Amen.