We all have or have had mothers. Every person here was formed inside a woman, protected and nourished by her.
As babies we all needed constant care. Somebody, some mother, fed us, cleaned us, clothed us.
It is part of the nature of human beings that we are utterly helpless for a long time after we are born. We depend completely on our mothers to an extent even greater than other mammals and for longer, for years.
We can’t really imagine what it’s like to be a baby, but I’m going to ask you to try. Try to imagine knowing no language, being unable to walk, crawl, or even to sit up; being unable to control your bodily functions, to pick up and even to focus your eyes. That’s how it is to be a new born. There is almost nothing you can do for yourself.
In the strange world of the very young baby there is one element that stands out and is the very centre. His or her mother. It’s thought that babies can recognise their mother’s voices from within a few days, or at most weeks, of birth. Babies’ sight is blurred and almost useless, except at the distance of about a foot that separates their faces from their mothers’ during feeding. It seems that they can recognise her face at around 6 weeks, while still unable to distinguish any other object.
We’ve all observed the way a very young child needs to know where his or her mother is. Feels safe so long as she is in sight.
This primary bond, of mother and child, is of a special and irreplaceable kind. There is nothing else that is like it. It is hard to argue with those who have said that this relationship lays the foundation for everything we will become.
The Biblical language and imagery about God is overwhelmingly masculine. The terms we are offered for God include Lord and Father. Jesus is the Son. It speaks of God as King. Nowhere do we find Lady, Queen or Mother as names for God.
We need to be careful that we don’t allow this to make us forget that when God creates human beings in the image of God he creates them male and female. Neither can claim to represent God alone. Somehow both reflect and show forth God’s nature and God’s rule, in their combination.
So we shouldn’t be surprised to find that motherhood, that most feminine and most important human role, is shown to reveal aspects of what God is for us. In Deuteronomy we hear that God gave us birth. The prophet Hosea tells us that God held Israel by the hand, teaching him to walk. Jesus compares himself to a mother hen, gathering her chicks under her wing and in Isaiah God promises to offer the comfort a mother offers.
The total dependence of a tiny baby on his or her mother is a good image of our relationship to God, in all sorts of ways. We can’t know the world the way God knows it, nor is God’s knowledge just an improved version of ours. Without words, without fully functioning senses, with no experience and no ability to use arms and legs the world of a new born is completely different from that of an adult. So it is with us and God.
But we all know that as babies grow all does not remain as straightforward and as harmonious as it is in those early months. The passages we’ve heard express the hurt and disappointment parents so often feel as young people seem to forget and to spurn all that’s been done for them. “You were unmindful”, God says, “you forgot”. “He doesn’t know or even care that it was I who took care of him”. Jesus laments that he wants to protect Jerusalem, “but you wouldn’t let me”.
It’s all too easy to recognise and to identify with both sides in this litany of pain. Children, and we are all children, need to establish their own lives, make their own way, become their own people. Parents, and many of us are parents, have to accept that what their children will become adults who are unlike them, who live differently and have values unlike ours. This can be difficult and can cause great hurt and damage where the bond breaks down and understanding fails, especially when the world is changing as fast as it is today.
Our passages remind us that the Biblical story is one where all humanity is in the position of a child who has taken all a mother can give and then turned their back on her. We have forgotten, we haven’t cared, about the care we have been given. We don’t visit or even call, we don’t send flowers or cards, we no longer share our triumphs and disasters, nor do we accept the protection we are offered.
On this mother’s day I hope that all of you who have mothers living have remembered them. I hope those of you who are mothers have been remembered. And I hope too that we are all properly mindful that God feels a mother’s love for us, that we are offered comfort by God of the kind a mother offers. We have no need to earn that love or that comfort, any more than any child has to earn their mother’s love, but what would we think of a child who ignored it, or didn’t return it?