Scripture for Mothering Sunday, the fourth Sunday in Lent:
1 Samuel 1.20–28; Psalm 127 ; Colossians 3.12-17; John 19.25b-27
Today is Mothering Sunday – recognised in the Church as a celebration of motherhood, but particularly of God as maternal presence, and the church as a mothering influence in the life of the community.
Looking in the Bible for stories of motherhood we find a rather mixed and often dubious set. For example, the mother of Moses lets go of her baby to save him from death. Hannah, the mother of Samuel, keeps a promise and gives up the child who was what she wanted most in all the world, to serve in the Temple.
Nevertheless, in these stories of seeming abandonment there is a subtle theme: the mothers are never far away from their children. In a way, this depicts on a human scale the manner in which God lets go of human beings, allowing us to go our own way, and make free choice, yet remaining not far away, waiting for our call.
The name given to Moses when he asks for God’s identity, is enigmatic and yet a clue: YHWH can mean “I am,” or “I will be,” or “I am what I am,” from which it is not far to: “I am – with you,” words from the covenant that God made with the chosen people, and renewed for all humanity in Jesus, the Christ.
God lets go of us, as mothers have to let go of their children at some point, yet remains available and accessible.
“I am with you, but I will let you go,” says God.
This carries an echo of the letting go that we have to do within our own lives.
For example – at one one end of life, we let go of our children; at another point in our lives, we may have to let go of parents into residential care.
There are those who have to let go of parents and/or children in other countries, who depend on the love and support of those who are not their flesh and blood. Some have to let go of their migrant children who receive familial privileges in the homes of friends in their adopted countries. In the Women’s World Day of Prayer last Friday, there was the poignant remembrance in prayer of the mothers and wives who have to let go of their family members who work in another place to provide a living.
There are children let go to be cared for by others while their parents work. There are parents who have to make even greater sacrifices, such as the mother of refugee children who would rather send a 15 year old with his 1 year old sister on ahead than hold them back. And there are, of course, adopted children, and those in foster care: children let go and entrusted to others.
Letting go is risky – and trust can be abused. Yet it can produce extraordinary new futures. The abandoned child, Moses, became the leader of the people, guiding them on their journey to the promised land. The relinquished child, Samuel, helped to shape a nation under a new system of rule. Out of affliction, and the pain of childlessness, God brought great events.
And God understands what it means to let go, having let go of a beloved son to be entrusted to the care of a world that cruelly demonstrated just how much trust can be abused. So in letting go, we can be comforted by one who is with both the ones let go and with the ones doing the letting go – the divine presence bridging the gap, bringing us closer.
We can remember with thanks that God’s parental love for us outstrips even the best experiences of being mothered.