Please read Exodus 2.1-10.
So much has changed in just a few days. Coronavirus has gone from being something out there to something that’s right with us. From something that was affecting other people to something that’s affecting every one of us. There have been new measures from the Government practically every day. Businesses, the church… you name it – we’ve all been adapting, changing, catching up with new rules and ways of doing things. Desperate measures for desperate times.
But there have been smiles, too. One of mine was hearing about a new way of delivering pizzas from Pizza Hut: ‘Our deliveries will be contact-free. This means that when we deliver your order, the delivery driver will place your order at a pre-agreed location before moving back to a safe distance. They will then contact you by phone to let you know they have arrived and wait to ensure you have collected your order.’
It made me think of Miriam, the sister of baby Moses, in Exodus 2. She placed her brother in a basket, put it among the reeds, then ‘stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.’ (v.4) We now have ‘contactless childcare’ – but that never lasts long… babies cry!
Desperate measures for desperate times... Pharaoh has commanded that every Hebrew boy that is born should be thrown into the Nile (1.22). But at least one mother defies this. She comes up with a plan – a desperate plan, but one that also enables her to obey the Pharaoh. She puts her baby in the river in a basket. But it’s hard to believe there’s a future for this child. Babies need attention… and babies cry!
As if things weren’t bad enough, as Miriam watches from a distance, along comes another woman… the daughter of the very man who wants this baby dead! She sees that it’s a Hebrew baby… Dramatic pause! Deep intake of breath! What must Miriam be feeling at this moment?
But this woman has compassion. She defies her father and, with a bit of bold, quick thinking on Miriam’s part, ends up paying the baby’s own mother for childcare.
There is irony upon irony in this story. Terence Fretheim, in his commentary on Exodus, identifies no fewer than eight ironies in these verses! I wonder how many you can spot – some are interrelated. (Email me or phone me with your answers, and there’ll be a prize for the winner next week – seriously! Clergy and LLMs with commentaries exempt!)
Irony and humour can keep us going in challenging times. I can imagine this story being of huge encouragement to Jewish people in later periods, giving them some wonderful laughs as people retold it. In these challenging times, we need to keep smiling and laughing with people – whether it’s within our families stuck at home or over the phone with our friends or family members we can’t see. I hope programmes like Dead Ringers are still on Radio 4! Our British sense of humour could be a great asset.
Fretheim writes: ‘Most fundamentally, it is revealing of a divine irony: God uses the weak, what is low and despised in the world, to shame the strong (see 1 Corinthians 1.26-29). Rather than using power as it is usually exercised in the world, God works through persons who have no obvious power…’ In this case, they are all women (including the courageous midwives in chapter 1, verses 15-19, who take humorous advantage of Pharaoh’s ignorance and racism).
We may feel powerless at this time. But there are things we can do to change the situation. If we feel very restricted by social distancing, we should remember that we are doing it for the whole country and making a difference to other people’s lives and futures.
And, like Pharaoh’s daughter, we can show compassion. There are so many heart-warming stories of people caring for each other in Britain today – people knocking on neighbours’ doors to see if they need anything; a Bishopstoke man offering free help with computers for families where children are struggling to do their online school work… Amazing generosity is emerging from our challenges.
In today’s gospel reading (John 19.25-27), Jesus shows compassion from the cross. He thinks about his mother’s future and that of ‘the disciple whom he loved’. He calls them ‘mother’ and ‘son’, making them into a new family in which they can care for each other. But it’s only the start. Through his death and resurrection Jesus creates a new family who share his Father and are connected by the Holy Spirit. This event at the cross is a sign and symbol of all of that.
Perhaps some of this is even prefigured in Pharaoh’s daughter. She ensures that Moses is cared for and takes him as her ‘son’ (v.10) – rather than the ‘slave’ he actually is.
Today, many people face a Mothering Sunday on which they cannot see their mothers or daughters or sons. People cannot go out for a Mothering Sunday lunch. The Prime Minister’s announcement that pubs and restaurants should be closed was quite deliberately timed! For many, sadly, it will be a ‘contactless Mothering Sunday’.
But babies need to be held. Children need their cuddles. Teens need to go out with their mates. People who live alone need visits. We all benefit from physical contact or seeing people in the flesh. We need to be concerned about the mental health of those who do not receive enough of these things over the coming weeks.
We must find new ways of contacting people or, for some of us, get back into using the phone. I’ve now set up Skype on my computer to provide a different way of visiting people – do let me know if you’d like to connect in that way. The main thing is that we stay in touch.
But we can also care for each other. As we often say on Mothering Sunday, we can be mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, to anyone. The Christian idea of a family is a wonderful model for all of society.
Pharaoh’s daughter named her son Moses, because she drew him out of the water (v.10). ‘Moses’ is supposed to sound like the Hebrew for draw out. This child had a start in life with little hope. But in all those ironies, God’s hand was at work. Moses was saved – drawn out of the water, rather like a baptism – and went on many years later to lead his people through the Red Sea, out of slavery and to freedom. When they were without hope, time and again, he trusted in God and gave his people hope.
The very last song we sang at St Mary’s before worship was put on hold was ‘Jesus, hope of the nations’. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SPOE0ocCuL8) It’s been going around my head quite a bit this week. I’ve been quite emotional at the thought of not having a church service for weeks, but these words and the tune have helped me. It was an inspired choice on the part of our song-leader, Jon. Jesus is our hope – ‘the hope, living in us’ – and he enables each one of us to offer his hope to others in the current crisis.
Where can we find God at work, with his hope, this week? And how can you and I give that hope to others?