There's an African proverb that, I believe, speaks a great truth
It says “It takes a village to raise a child”
In other words, in order to grow up balanced, healthy, secure we all need care from all sorts of different sources, - the extended family, the whole clan, rather than just the simple nuclear model of 2 parents and 2.4 children that we might imagine is the ideal today.
And today, as we celebrate MOTHERING it's good to remember that.
Mothering is never in any way confined to mothers, you see – it's something that we can all do – men, women and children...those who have had wonderful, loved and loving parents and those whose experience growing up was anything but positive.
When people think of today as “Mothers Day” it can be deeply painful.
So many of us have lost our mothers long ago, while others are estranged from them or struggle with disappointment in their children, or sadness that they have no children at all.
All of us, I'm sure, are conscious of the failings in our own relationships – and even if those are in reasonable repair,even on a good day I know that I'll never come up to the standards of those mothers celebrated by the greetings card industry.The enthusiastic paeons in favour of the perfect tv mother have always left me feeling decidedly guilty...so that, like many women whose experiences don't match ideals, I've been tempted to stay at home on Mothering Sunday.
But, fortunately for my children, mothering has never been the exclusive preserve of mothers, who, at our best, are only human...
This is something that is borne out by our lectionary today.
In the Old Testament reading we have not one but three women offering mothering to the infant Moses. In the Gospel, though there's but one mother, this isn't the soft focus celebration that belongs in the world of Hallmark cards and tv advertising.
It's strangely comforting that in this family sketch we see not a picture of smiling perfection but rather of a dying son, a bewildered friend and a mother whose heart is surely breaking.
Mary knew what it was to suffer, never doubt it...
From the moment she gave birth in a filthy stable far from home, through the refugee years in Egypt, to the days of Jesus's ministry, when her beloved son seemed to determined to cut his ties with her and to place himself at terrible risk...suffering was never far away.
And here at the foot of the cross those risks bring their inevitable reward and she suffers again as she watches her precious child, flesh of her flesh, in all the agony of his crucifixion.
I wonder if she recalled the prophetic words of Simeon
“This child is chosen by God for the rising and falling of many in Israel...to be a sign that many will oppose...and a sword will pierce your own soul also”.
This, right enough, is the moment of piercing.
Mary knows all too well what it is to be a grief stricken parent.
But in this tableau at Calvary there is one who is actually doing the mothering – ensuring the best possible outcome for those for whom he cares, those for whom he feels responsible.
Even as he hangs there, helpless, Jesus is taking care of those whom he loves.
Joseph has vanished from the gospels (there's no reference to him after the episode when Jesus is 12 and runs away to spend time in the Temple)so it's reasonable to assume that Mary is a widow – utterly dependent on her eldest son. With his death she will be defenceless...pushed to the forgotten fringes of society -so Jesus acts.
Woman, here is your son. Here is your mother.
A new family is created in the shadow of the cross – a family of those who've followed Jesus to the very end (the gospels refer to Jesus's brothers, but it's clear that they aren't among the disciples, that they aren't there to support Mary on the Friday we now call Good) a family based on love and care given and received.
And that family is the one gathered here today – the family we call the Church
As we celebrate the Eucharist together, sharing the body and blood of Christ, so we're continuing the work that Jesus began that day, the work of building a new community, a new family.
Within that family all are called to comfort one another
All to offer strength and support
All to encourage, to welcome and offer hospitality.
These are the hallmarks of the church – love, comfort, support and hospitality
These are the aspects of true mothering that we all need and that we can all give to one another.
There is no room for judgementalism, or closed-minds. This is no place to be exclusive or arrogant.
Though we often fail to live up to the ideal, it is still something we should strive for.
God calls us to be loving, open, forgiving – we must take this seriously – for if we do, then surely the Church will become irresistible.
The Church exists to reflect and to share the unconditional love of God, - and if we could but show this more effectively, then I suspect we'd replace worries about decline with queues of eager visitors, longing to share in that wonderful gift of grace.
But that's not easy...any more than the life of our everyday families is always easy.
The tableau at the foot of the cross suggests something else about family, that family exists where we make it .
We've all encountered families united by birth, blood, tradition, that are nonetheless completely dysfunctional...they don't operate as loving and supportive units at all.
Maybe it's just too costly.
Family means work. It should mean support and love and mutuality - but it also means effort.
True families don't just happen just because a group of people share a home and a surname – and equally, church families may fall apart...as our own larger Anglican family threatens to right now.
True families exist where people are loving towards one another...where they offer love, comfort, support and welcome.
And so this Mothering Sunday lets commit ourselves to being a real family...a community that affirms and welcomes those within and without and celebrates the nurturing mothering love that we can all share every day.