Mothering Sunday, 22nd March 2020
Luke chapter 2, verses 33-35
For many years in my home office I had a poster showing a music hall performer wearing a top hat and waving a cane, and above him was written Life is a performance for which I never had a chance to rehearse! Sometimes the sheer enormity of the challenges we face might lead us to agree with this statement. We say ‘If only I knew what was coming; if only someone had given me a script or at least an idea of the plot ahead of time, then I would know how best to respond.’ Perhaps now is such a time, as we wonder how to respond to the challenges facing our community with the spread of coronavirus.
Our gospel text is about a time in the history of Israel when faithful Jewish people must have also felt overwhelmed by the scale of things going wrong around them, as they suffered under successive waves of foreign invasion. A few blocks from their beautiful temple in Jerusalem was a Roman garrison, manned by soldiers ready to arrest or execute protestors and trouble-makers. They were forced to contribute taxes that fed an ever-expanding empire run by dictators who claimed to exercise divine authority. I’m sure the people of Palestine must have asked ‘Why such unfairness? Where is God in this?’ Into the middle of this situation comes a young working-class couple. They enter the temple to offer a sacrifice for the consecration of their first-born son. Because they are poor, they can only afford a pair of doves.
What’s interesting here is that Jesus first entry into the temple is not as a renowned rabbi, healer or prophet. He comes into the temple as a helpless baby, carried by his young mother accompanied by her husband Joseph, a carpenter. If you were looking for a powerful Messiah figure, you would not have noticed the Lord coming into his temple that day. But then, astoundingly, there is recognition from two people, both of them quite old: Simeon, an aging priest, and Anna, an eccentric widow who passed her time by hanging around the temple every day, chatting and praying. Both of them have amazing things to say about this child, that he will become a man who will speak and act in such a way that “the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed, and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” Poor Mary – there were many griefs and challenges for her as a mother.
On this mothering Sunday, when we may be feeling powerless and possibly fearful for those in our families, it is good to remember that when the Lord appears in his temple, he comes clothed in flesh, carried in his mother’s arms, just like one of us. How ordinary this is, and yet, how surprising. Sometimes we fail to recognise God presence in the given circumstances and challenges of our everyday lives, because we are looking elsewhere. But God chooses to inhabit every moment of life, even in those moments when we think things are out of our control.
Perhaps, when we ask ‘Where is God in this?’ and fail to see God’s presence in our midst, then our formulation of God is too limited. Our eyes might be dimmed by the fading light, rather than considering the beauty of the approaching night sky. Simeon and Anna show us what it’s like to be observant, patient and open to the Spirit in each moment. May we (like them) be open to see how God may be working in our midst, and seek opportunities to join in this work together. As we enter a time of social quarantine, it may be that God is calling us to a deeper work of prayer, to more reflective reading of the Scriptures and also to overcome the barrier of social distancing by supporting and encouraging each other via telephone, email, social media and letters. And perhaps there are some simple practical things we can do to assist those near us who are having to self-isolate. “Whatever we do”, we are reminded in the words of our reading from Colossians, “whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
Happy mothering Sunday! Reverend Phil, 22 March 2020