Readings, Hymns and Sermon for Mothering Sunday, 22nd March.

Opening Hymn

Bible Reading

Our reading is from the book of Exodus, chapter 2, verses 1-10. For context, before this reading, the Egyptian leaders have enslaved the Israelites and ordered that every newborn Israelite boy should be thrown in the Nile.

About this time, a man and woman from the tribe of Levi got married. The woman became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She saw that he was a special baby and kept him hidden for three months. But when she could no longer hide him, she got a basket made of papyrus reeds and waterproofed it with tar and pitch. She put the baby in the basket and laid it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile River. The baby’s sister then stood at a distance, watching to see what would happen to him.

Soon Pharaoh’s daughter came down to bathe in the river, and her attendants walked along the riverbank. When the princess saw the basket among the reeds, she sent her maid to get it for her. When the princess opened it, she saw the baby. The little boy was crying, and she felt sorry for him. “This must be one of the Hebrew children,” she said.

Then the baby’s sister approached the princess. “Should I go and find one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?” she asked. “Yes, do!” the princess replied. So the girl went and called the baby’s mother. “Take this baby and nurse him for me,” the princess told the baby’s mother. “I will pay you for your help.” So the woman took her baby home and nursed him.

10 Later, when the boy was older, his mother brought him back to Pharaoh’s daughter, who adopted him as her own son. The princess named him Moses, for she explained, “I lifted him out of the water.”

This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God

Sermon

One of the things I noticed about this reading when I read it afresh this year was that none of the characters, except the baby have a name.  The baby’s mother, the baby’s sister, the Pharaoh’s daughter and the Pharaoh’s daughter’s maid are all nameless.  In a society which only really recorded the names of the important and powerful – warriors and leaders and key heads of households – this is not that unusual.  Later, we will find out that Moses’ mother is called Jochebed and it is likely his sister is the sister mentioned later in his life as Miriam, the prophet. But in this birth story of the great leader, Moses, the main actors are nameless nobodies.

And yet, without these nameless nobodies, there would be no Moses.  Without these nameless nobodies, there would be no leader of the Passover leading to the freedom of God’s people.  The mother’s determination and creativity, the Pharaoh’s daughter’s compassion, the maid’s obedience and loyalty, the sister’s quick thinking and courage all played their part in God’s rescue of the Israelites.

I love to use this reading on Mothering Sunday because it reminds us that the care, protection and nurture of children is more than simply the role of those who give birth to them.  For Moses to live and thrive, he depended on the compassion, courage and care of a community of women.  It is a reminder on a day which can too often descend into sentimental stereotypes, that mothering is a brave and risky task; and that it is often done by a number of people all committed to the child’s welfare.  So, this Mothering Sunday, I wonder who mothered you?  Who have you mothered?  What did these experiences teach you about the mothering love of God?

As I read this story, this year in particular, I am reminded of the cost and pain of love.  Who knows how Moses’ mother must have felt, a few years later, weaning her son and taking him to live with the Pharaoh’s daughter? To do what was best for Moses meant leaving him in the care of another and being apart from the child she had taken such risks to protect.  However, perhaps this has some resonance this Mothering Sunday, which, at this time of the coronavirus crisis, is going be an unusual and painful one for many.  Some of us will not be able to spend this day with those we love because of care for their safety and health.  As we obey the social distancing and self-isolation advice, we must – in love – refrain from the visits we would love to make and the hugs we would love to give.  And that will cost us dearly.

But let us return to the idea of the nameless nobodies. Just as those unnamed women played a critical role in the rescue of God’s entire people by their care for this one baby, so we – small and insignificant as we sometimes feel – have a part to play in our country’s story.  Our choices, our courage and our care could make all the difference in the weeks and months ahead.  Your decision to stay home may prevent yourself or other people becoming unwell taking some of the strain off our NHS workers.  Your phone call or email or video chat may encourage someone who is lonely, worried and struggling at this anxious time.  Your kindness in offering to deliver shopping (if safe and able to do so) or make a donation to the Foodbank (if you are able to do so) might be a lifeline to the most vulnerable during this crisis. Most of all, your prayers and your faith may bring hope to those who need it most.  Keep praying, daily, for as Lord Alfred Tennyson said – and I truly believe – more things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.

So, it is a difficult and daunting time.  However, this Mothering Sunday, remember the nameless nobodies in our reading without whose courageous and compassionate mothering God’s rescue of God’s people would not have taken place.  May their example encourage you to do your part to care for those around you in the days, weeks and months ahead. Amen.

Hymn for Reflection

Intercessions

Let us pray to God,
who alone makes us dwell in safety:

For all who mother and those who have mothered us,
remembering everyone for whom today will be difficult.
May they find comfort and care:
Lord hear us,
Lord, graciously hear us.

For all who are affected by coronavirus,
through illness or isolation or anxiety,
that they may find relief and recovery:
Lord, hear us,
Lord, graciously hear us.

For those who are guiding our nation at this time,
and shaping national policies,
that they may make wise decisions:
Lord, hear us,
Lord, graciously hear us.

For doctors, nurses and medical researchers,
that through their skill and insights
many will be restored to health:
Lord, hear us,
Lord, graciously hear us.

For the vulnerable and the fearful,
for the gravely ill and the dying,
that they may know your comfort and peace:
Lord, hear us,
Lord, graciously hear us.

We commend ourselves, and all for whom we pray,
to the mercy and protection of God.
Merciful Father,
accept these prayers
for the sake of your Son,
our Saviour Jesus Christ.
Amen.

Closing Hymn

2 thoughts on “Readings, Hymns and Sermon for Mothering Sunday, 22nd March.

  1. This is the first time I’ve read this reading and wondered about the elder sister. We are told the couple got married, the wife got pregnant and had a son. So when and where did the older sister come from?

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    1. I wondered this too. I imagined two possibilities: either that the Israelite slavery lasted for some time so they had time for an earlier unmentioned birth or perhaps she was a half sister from a previous/other wife?

      Like

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