1 Samuel 1.20-28 . Gospel John 19.25-27
May I speak in the name of the One who is Source of all being, eternal Word and Spirit of truth.
She stands before Eli the priest, I came every year, and then I stopped. Does she look him in the eye? Does she come marching up? Does she toss her head a little? Remember me? Did she imagine tapping him on the shoulder, watching him turn, waiting for the recognition in his eye hey, Eli, remember me?
It has been a while now, 4 years probably, the memory of that last time stands clear for her. She remembers, and now she has come, she has come to seek him out, this priest O Eli do you remember me?
Does he? Does Eli remember her?
Does he remember this woman standing – there, just there, was it really 4 years ago? he remembers he went over to remonstrate with her, what a spectacle she was making of herself, pull yourself together he said, what shocking behaviour he said, and here she is again, standing before him.
Hannah remembers. Hannah, taunted by her husband’s other wife, desperate and longing for children, went into the temple, that day, and stood before God, opened her heart, perhaps for the first time, let go of all the pretence, and poured it all out, she surprised herself really – the power of saying those words out loud, they had been spinning round in her head for so long, and then, then of course she had almost been thrown out –she catches Eli’s eye – and there passes a moment, O yes she has been remembered.
And look who I have with me; look who is peeping round my skirts, wide eyed and curious, ready to emerge into the world, this is my pride and joy, my son, my beautiful, precious boy, who I nurtured, and protected, who was given to my care for a little while, and who now I lend to God.
There is no neutral way to talk about this story. Where do you place yourself? The weeping Hannah longing for children? The rather plaintive cry of her husband back in verse 8 ‘why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than 10 sons?’ The image of Hannah, shutting herself away for those precious years before she returns to the temple. Perhaps you are drawn to the child, 3 or 4 years old uprooted from home and sent to live in the temple?
Perhaps you feel excluded from this story altogether?
And then? If you happened to have your Bible open at that page, you would see, Hannah immediately launches into song
O I do love Hannah, the two things we know she does in church; uncontrollable weeping and spontaneous singing.
And what about that song? Just like Mary’s Magnificat,
Both songs, both women, both mothers sing a song not that their individual specific child would be healthy, happy, prosperous, whatever, but something in the act of creating this new life has inspired in them to a vision of the world they long for; of wrongs being made right redressing the balance, a world of peace and justice.
This story of Hannah, written by a displaced people who longed for a God who would remember them, forging their identity in exile by reaching back into the memory of the golden age of the monarchy. They were surrounded by Babylonian myths of kings with divine powers, of warring gods indifferent to the fate of humans, instead their stories grew around a Divinity who is deeply and intrinsically rooted in human interests, rooted and grounded in love.
Now of course you don’t have to be pregnant to discover that the world is crying out in anguish for justice and mercy, for the hungry to be filled and the lowly to be lifted up, but it is a powerful metaphor nonetheless, as new life stirs and grows within, to listen to what our hearts are yearning for, the call to participate in the flourishing of all creation.
Which brings us to today, Mothering Sunday, a day which invites us to remember Mothering as a verb, rather than a noun.
And how might we describe this verb of mothering? Might we use words like protecting, nurturing, sustaining?
These are words of growth, of journeying, We might use words like challenging, transforming, flourishing.
Are these words to describe all those who mother? – I am sure many of you, like me, know fathers who mother, sisters who mother, grandmas who mother, those who take on being a mother, mothers who also father, second mothers, mothers without their children.
Let me tell you about Phylis, or Phyl, as she would have us call her. As it happens when Phyl was young the country was at war with Germany. Now where she lived, in Northampton, there was a camp, an internment camp for German prisoners of war. Now as you can imagine, these young German men were not especially welcomed, indeed they were generally treated with great suspicion, fear, perhaps even hatred, people perhaps saw it as their duty to shun them, turn away, to treat them as the enemy.
Phyl’s mother however, saw things differently. She only saw young, vulnerable men, far from home, young men in need of mothering. So Phyl’s mum reached out, and invited one of the men, called Zip into their home. Zip became a regular visitor, drawn into the family, as Phyl’s mother became a mother to Zip as well.
Do you wonder how Phyl felt as her mother brought this man into their home? Do you wonder if she had to endure the criticism of people who were shocked that she could do such a thing, the accusations of people who called them disloyal – or worse, Or, perhaps do you wonder if Phyl was proud of her mother, proud to be the daughter of a woman who could see past the enemy soldier and see the young man who needed a mother?
Over the years of the war, Zip did become part of that family, a son to Phyl’s mother, a brother to Phyl and her sisters, and when he returned home to Germany after the war the two families of course stayed in touch, visiting each other, becoming part of each other’s story of family, the story remembered and handed down to Phyl’s daughter and granddaughter, and now handed on to you. Now this isn’t a grand story, just a simple quiet domestic story, just one of many family stories of those who reach out, across boundaries, forging new relationships. Stories of love and understanding, of how we are to be in the world, how we are to make the world we long to see.
Perhaps we can see how wonderful, how liberating that we can find the depth and richness of mothering in all those forms. And how the richness of this allows us to understand the mothering of God, the strength, the depth, the enduring power of divine love.
this is the love which sustains us in the journey of our growth, of our deepest connection, bringing us to the point of wholeness, to become all we were meant to be.
Our Gospel story this morning reminds us, as if we needed it, that mothering is not limited to biology – that the beloved disciple and the mother of Jesus were, at the cross, in their mutual grief and loss, brought into a new relationship, the beloved disciple found a mother, and Mary became a mother to another son
Perhaps the mothering of God is the wholehearted embracing of life in all its fulness, to struggle, to weep, to celebrate, to laugh, to wonder, imagine the world as it could be.
As we respond to Christ’s invitation this morning, we come together as sisters and brothers of one family, who share in the body and blood of Christ; we stand in the presence of God, to mother and to be mothered, to remember and be remembered,
May we know that each of us is called to nurture, to protect, to sustain, to participate in the flourishing of all creation, and share in the outpouring of love
(Our Guest speaker. April is curate at St Edbergs, Bicester)
My prayers are prayers of earth’s own clumsily striving
(finding and losing and laughing and crying)children
Whose any sadness or joy is my grief or gladness
(e e cummings)