Sermon by Margaret Pritchard Houston on Mothering Sunday 6th March 2016 at St Georges Campden Hill

Sermon by Margaret Pritchard Houston on Mothering Sunday 6th March 2016 at St Georges Campden Hill

I wrote these words when I was 16 weeks pregnant:

“We are never home safe. When we bring our children into this world, we open them up to peril, heartbreak, danger, and death. And often, we can do nothing but stand back and watch them suffer. There are no guarantees – our God is a God of risk, and the world, and nature, are deeply broken.

That is why we bring children to baptism. Like Moses’s mother, we cast them unprotected onto the water, and trust that God will carry them. My time in the desert of infertility and the love I have for this child who will never be 100% safe, have shown me how little control we have – even those of us who are relatively privileged. There is no happily ever after, except for the sure and certain knowledge that, as Tirian says in The Last Battle, “whatever happens, we are all between the paws of the true Aslan.”

That is enough. That is more than enough.”

Eleven and a half weeks weeks later, that child died at birth.

Most of us know the story of Moses so well that we don’t feel the primal terror of that child on the river. We know, in theory, of why he was there – because Pharaoh was killing the babies of the Hebrews – but we don’t really think about it. The river is portrayed as gentle and free from alligators, currents, and rocks, and Pharaoh’s daughter is kind and benign.

But this story was happening in the middle of a genocide. Terrified of a slave uprising, Pharaoh decreed that all male children be killed. The Hebrew midwives, like rescuers during the Holocaust, took their lives in their hands, smuggling children to safety, lying to Pharaoh’s face. Moses’s mother hid her child, and, with no better option once he started to move and make noise, took him down to the river and let him go. And he floated straight into the arms of the enemy’s family.

Put that story into modern Syria and see how different it feels. Or imagine Moses’ s mother in Berlin in 1941.

And Pharaoh’s daughter – the benevolent rescuer ... the adoptive mother who thought she was only taking pity on a helpless child – when that child grew up, and rose against her, when he came striding into her father’s throne room, his face alight with the power of God, when he brought plagues and destruction, darkness and death, when the angel of death passed over and slew the first-born of all of Egypt, and she held her own dead son in her arms because of this child she had rescued ... what was it like for her?

And Mary, who stood at the base of the cross and watched water and blood pour from her child’s sides, thinking perhaps of the water and blood that poured from her when she birthed him, his life and death joining – what was motherhood like for her?

Looking at these stories, the main image of motherhood that comes across is risk and loss. We see very little of Mary’s day-to-day mothering – of her tending to Jesus’s skinned knees, making him practice his reading or go to synagogue or brush his hair. We don’t see Moses’s mother, in the few months she had him, sneaking a moment of happiness singing silly songs to him, despite knowing Pharaoh’s soldiers could come any minute. And there are parts of mothering that these women didn’t do at all – the particular triumphs and struggles of parenting a child with special needs, for example. The courage of caring for a child in the fog and fear of post-partum depression.
And, of course, there are parts of these mother’s stories that are different from any of ours. The desperate act of love that saves Moses’s life leads to the liberation of an entire people, and the crucifixion of Jesus leads to the salvation of the entire world. But I doubt either mother knew that at the time – for them, there was simply loss, and risk, and love.

And that is universal. Love is risky. Any kind of love, but particularly loving a child, who is so small and fragile, even in these relatively safe times.

Since Isaac died, I’ve had to figure out how to talk about it in conversation. Someone asks if I have children, and I say, “I had a son who died at birth,” and they go quiet. I eventually had to figure out how to end on a note that gave them something to say – now I add, “but even despite what happened, I would still rather have had him than not.” That is the risk of maternal love. I would have jumped in front of a train if it could have saved him – his death has changed me forever – and I’m still glad I had him.

That is the love God has for us. We break God’s heart over and over, we kill and hurt each other, we spoil the earth he made, we fight and lie and cheat and trample the poor, and still he would jump in front of a train for us. Or, rather, he would nail himself to a cross for us. Because he still would rather have us than not. The risk is worth it.

As C.S. Lewis says, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy – or at least the risk of tragedy – is damnation.”

Go out and love. Love fiercely. Love with risk. Love like God. Love like mothers.

Holland Park Benefice