God of compassion, whose Son Jesus Christ, the child of Mary, shared the life of a home in Nazareth, and on the cross drew the whole human family to himself: strengthen us in our daily living that in joy and in sorrow we may know the power of your presence to bind together and to heal; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
God of love, passionate and strong, tender and careful: watch over us and hold us all the days of our life; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Loving God, as a mother feeds her children at the breast you feed us in this sacrament with the food and drink of eternal life: help us who have tasted your goodness to grow in grace within the household of faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
In due time Hannah conceived and bore a son. She named him Samuel, for she said, ‘I have asked him of the Lord.’ The man Elkanah and all his household went up to offer to the Lord the yearly sacrifice, and to pay his vow. But Hannah did not go up, for she said to her husband, ‘As soon as the child is weaned, I will bring him, that he may appear in the presence of the Lord, and remain there for ever; I will offer him as a nazirite for all time.’ Her husband Elkanah said to her, ‘Do what seems best to you, wait until you have weaned him; only—may the Lord establish his word.’ So the woman remained and nursed her son, until she weaned him. When she had weaned him, she took him up with her, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour, and a skin of wine. She brought him to the house of the Lord at Shiloh; and the child was young. Then they slaughtered the bull, and they brought the child to Eli. And she said, ‘Oh, my lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the Lord. For this child I prayed; and the Lord has granted me the petition that I made to him. Therefore I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives, he is given to the Lord.’ She left him there for the Lord.
1 Samuel 1:20–28
11 Come, my children, and listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
12 Who is there who delights in life
and longs for days to enjoy good things?
13 Keep your tongue from evil
and your lips from lying words.
14 Turn from evil and do good;
seek peace and pursue it.
15 The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous
and his ears are open to their cry.
16 The face of the Lord is against those who do evil,
to root out the remembrance of them from the earth.
17 The righteous cry and the Lord hears them
and delivers them out of all their troubles.
18 The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
and will save those who are crushed in spirit.
19 Many are the troubles of the righteous;
from them all will the Lord deliver them.
20 He keeps all their bones,
so that not one of them is broken.
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’
Sermon on Mothering Sunday
For me, Mothering Sunday is a difficult day. Here we are in the middle of Lent, that long fast of the christian year, and yet we forget the abstinence of the season for this one day. We bring flowers and cards to our mothers and then treat her to lunch, but in our reading from the OT Hannah brings her son to the temple “along with a three-year- old bull, an ephah of flour, and a skin of wine” in order to dedicate him to the Lord.
Hannah “named him Samuel, for she said, ‘I have asked him of the Lord.’” The meaning of the name Samuel is ‘God has heard.’ Hannah’s petition was granted and the child was born. When the child was weaned, Hannah went to the temple with her son in order to give thanks and dedicate him to the service of the Lord God. She said to her husband, “that he may appear in the presence of the Lord, and remain there for ever; I will offer him as a nazirite for all time.” This dedication of the child to God through his name and bringing him to the temple is quite different to our everyday attitudes to our children today, isn’t it? Parents nowadays keep their children to themselves, wrapping them in the coddling of cotton wool away from any risk or danger in life. Our children are more fortunate than in generations past, aren’t they?
My childhood was spent with my friends and escaping from my enemies. We were out on the hill behind the high school which was considered such a dangerous place – of course it was, the hill had a fifty foot cliff looming over a new development of houses. There we played and hung around. Never thinking anything bad would happen because we were in a group of friends who watched over each other, even if we disagreed and the truths we shouted out to each other in the frustration of youth often hurt.
However, I was fortunate as a child. My mother treated me as a friend, a friend who would listen and speak to me as an equal, even more so as my beard went grey. We shared the truth about life and we respected each other. Now, I cannot bring her posies and gifts any longer, but I can remember that gift of loving friendship she gave me, a gift I want to share with others.
What do friends do for each other? I think they love without expectation, just as mothers love their children. They love unconditionally, as we have heard so many times before. But I want to elevate the love of friends to the heights of maternal care.
Who would hear the words of Simeon and not be frightened away?
Then Simeon blessed them and said …, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many …, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’
Who would have the courage to say, “I am his friend,” as they saw the sword raised to strike that fatal blow right to the heart. We would worry about that blow, wouldn’t we? Perhaps we would even fail as friends.
Both Mary and Hannah are offering up their sons to God. They have dedicated them to the Lord. Again, I say, this is a foreign notion to us, even though we have heard these stories time and time again.
Do you remember the story of the Wisdom of Solomon when two women claimed a child to be her own? How can two women claim one child? Solomon must have been perplexed, don’t you think? But he made a monumental decision, he would divide the child in two, a half for each woman. It was only fair, he said, since neither would forsake their claim to the child. I want to think that mothering was at the root of his judgement – how could he call it forth from these two fierce claimants? What is a mother’s love?
A mother knows the sword piercing her soul, cleaving it apart because of the child at her heart. As the sword was poised above the child’s head, the mother’s heart was pierced and it bled the words giving up the child, so that it might live. She knows that she has to let go, or, in the words of that Beatles’ song, to “let it be”. This is the hardest of all actions, to let things take their own course, not to interfere in events even though you want something so fervently.
That “without expectation” is at the heart that mother’s love and I would say it is at the heart of any loving friendship. It is at the heart of the love which Paul espouses to the young churches, and now to us. It is the hardest lesson of all for anyone to learn, but mothers learn this lesson at the moment of birth. The child is now free for infinite possibility. The child is loved whatever the course of life. Mothering means always saying you love and letting go.
Years ago at school, we read a book called The Art of Loving – and I suppose everything I have said today stems from my understanding of that mysterious art. Love is unbounded and unbound, ever holding out its care for the other without expectation. The dedication of a child to the Lord is not the end of a mother’s love – rather, I think we should see it as the beginning of loving expectation, that great expectation of doing the Lord’s will for the rising of many, even if the sword will pierce to a mother’s very core.
My reflections on a mother’s love are at the core of my Mothering Sunday. But they range far beyond pleasant, childhood memories and stories from the bible. I have drawn on, but not spoken of, hard episodes from life all around us to celebrate this Sunday. I think we all would wish to offer something up as such a thanksgiving. – But here we are in the middle of Lent, at the very heart of the season of soul-searching and self-sacrifice, which everyone recognises as christian duty, even those without a christian connection say so. Today children will delight their mothers with their gifts, won’t they? But we, whose mothers have passed, to whom will we give the real or virtual blooms of this equinox?
I am not one for posies even if I do spend my working day in the garden. How do I present my appreciation of a mother’s loving friendship which nourished me? A posy represents the gift we would like to give, doesn’t it? It is a gift we would want to give all our friends as well as our mothers, as a recognition of their loving care. So, I broke down this morning. I walked around the garden earlier and picked this posy. Here is my token of gratitude for the years of friendly love my mother and friends represents to me.