Today is Mothers’ Day in England (thank you, my beloved daughters, for having made it such a loving and happy day).
It’s always celebrated here on the fourth Sunday in Lent.
It came to be known as Mothering Sunday (from which, Mothers’ Day) because of the (sixteenth century) tradition of domestic servants being given a day off to ‘go a-mothering’ on that day; meaning, to return to their mother church, and thus gather together with folks at home, including their mothers.
But before the development of going a-mothering and later of Mothers’ Day, this Sunday was known as Laetare Sunday, because on that day the beginning of the Mass included the words Laetare Jerusalem (O be joyful, Jerusalem), from Isaiah 66:9-10:
Rejoice with Jerusalem; be glad for her,
all you that love this city!
Rejoice with her now,
all you that have mourned for her!
You will enjoy her prosperity,
like a child at its mother's breast.
The portrayal of Jerusalem as the mother of the people of God perpetuates from this Old Testament vision into the nascence of the Christian faith with its vision of the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven like a bride adorned for her bridegroom.
Laetare Sunday celebrates motherhood, but traditionally the emphasis is not on the women who are our earthly mothers but on the faith community that has nourished and nurtured us, given us life, brought us to new birth.
In the readings set for today (about mothers as you might expect) is included the option of the passage from Exodus (2:1-10) in which Pharaoh’s daughter discovers the infant Moses, and by this means his mother is able to continue to bring up her child under protection from persecution, handing him into the royal household when he is big enough to leave her.
When I heard this read at Mass today (how often in reading/hearing the Bible a familiar story suddenly and vividly opens a fresh insight), I was struck by Pharaoh’s daughter’s observation on discovering the baby, “This must be one of the Hebrews’ children.”
The background to the story is given in Exodus 1, where we learn of the order given by Pharaoh to slaughter all the male Hebrew children at birth. He wanted them all dead. No exceptions.
How intriguing, then, to read that when Pharaoh’s daughter found the basket with the baby, opened it and found him crying, she took pity on him, and in full realisation that this was a Hebrew child, she acquiesced to the suggestion that a Hebrew woman be obtained to nurse him, and gave him into the care of that woman until he was old enough to come back to be brought up by her in the royal household – presumably when he was weaned at five or six years old.
I stopped on the words, He was crying, and she took pity on him.
I thought how, as a woman, she had no say in the governing of Egypt. She, I suspect, would never have ordered wholesale slaughter of infants. She was part of it, implicated in it by virtue of being an Egyptian – but the decision lay with Pharaoh not with her.
Her part was to accept, to offer no criticism, to be subject to Pharaoh’s rule and command.
But when she herself was faced with one of those boy-children whose death Pharaoh had expressly commanded, in full knowledge that this baby was among the condemned, she chose a different course.
Without a word of criticism, without protest or even ‘speaking truth to Power’, Pharaoh’s daughter simply chose to differ from her father in this matter; she conducted her own quiet revolution (and, oh my, what a revolution it turned out to be!)
Sitting in Mass this morning, turning the story over in my mind, I thought about the power of men and the power of women, about the natural aggression and warlike temperament of men, about being in power and being subject, about ways of exercising choice and expressing a different view.
In Iraq, in Afghanistan, in America, in England, in China, in Syria, in Palestine – in every war-torn place and every land where men delight in supplying bombs and grenades and anti-personnel explosive devices, where the ominous aircraft fly overhead and the tanks advance across the ground and the gunfire issues in staccato bursts from the window-holes – let there be women of whom it may be written: He was crying and she took pity on him. And let this be our revolution.