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Motherhood
L. R. TarsitanoóSaint Andrew's Church, Savannah
The Third Sunday after EasteróMay 14, 2000

 

"And Hannah prayed, and said, My heart rejoiceth in the LORD, mine horn is exalted in the LORD: my mouth is enlarged over mine enemies; because I rejoice in thy salvation" (1 Samuel 2:1). 

In order to understand what is known as "the Song of Hannah," which these words begin, we have to guide our minds to a time before the so-called "sexual revolution" that began just forty years ago with the introduction of the first "birth-control pills." 

We need to remember, too, that the scientific research that led to those oral contraceptives began as the medical pursuit of various new means to protect the health of women in their childbearing years. Except for the sorts of activists who would have been considered "extreme radicals," few rational people in those days were interested in a social upheaval meant to "liberate" women (and necessarily men as well) from the supposed "burdens" of self-control and the responsibilities of marriage, or to "protect" them from children. 

After all, for most of human history a lack of children was considered one of the greatest sorrows that a married couple might have to face. Our present materialist culture might reduce this desire for children to a need for child-labor on the family farm or to a primitive system of social security, but to do so it has to ignore the thousands of years of evidence that men and women prayed fervently to God for the vocations of fatherhood and motherhood. 

Our life-denying culture, given as it is to talking about "sex lives" in a way once reserved for the uncouth or the morally deficient, must also ignore the fact that the word "matrimony" comes from the word for "mother" and that matrimony is a social, moral, and sacramental system for the care of mothers by their husbands. Likewise, the words "marry" and "marriage" come from an ancient word that means "man," so that the care of a wife and family was, in effect, "to be a man." 

Not everyone, of course, has the vocations of marriage and parenthood, and the Christian Church has always honored those who have been called by God to a state of celibacy rather than to marriage and upheld those husbands and wives who were unable to bear children as true Christian households nevertheless. It would be a mistake, however, not to notice that these are the vocations of people in special circumstances, whereas the general calling of the greater part of humanity is both to marriage and to parenthood. Otherwise, human society would fall into chaos almost at once, and the human race itself would quickly come to an end. 

The older editions of the Book of Common Prayer were quite direct in summarizing "the causes for which Matrimony was ordained" by God and how the vocation of marriage has been understood by those who fear God. We find this teaching about matrimony in the Prayer Book of 1662: 

First, It was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name. 

Secondly, It was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christís body. 

Thirdly, It was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have to the other, both in prosperity and adversity. 

These purposes were not invented in 1662, or in 1549 when they appeared in the first English rite for marriages. Nor were they invented by Christianity. These are the purposes that God gave marriage from the beginning, from the time of Adam and Eve, as sanctified by the faith of the people of both the Old and the New Testaments. 

Hannahís Song, then, is a birth song. It is her song of triumph to celebrate the birth of her son Samuel. She had been barren, and God by a miracle of his grace had given her the vocation of being the mother of the last of the Old Testament Judges. It would be her son, as well, who would anoint the young David the King of Israel. 

Thus, when Hannah had weaned her beloved son, she took him to the Lordís Tabernacle in Shiloh, where she announced to the priest: 

Oh my lord, as thy soul liveth, my lord, I am the woman that stood by thee here, praying unto the LORD. For this child I prayed; and the LORD hath given me my petition which I asked of him: Therefore also I have lent him to the LORD; as long as he liveth he shall be lent to the LORD. And he worshipped the LORD there (1 Samuel 1:26-28). 

As her son began to pray to the Lord God, Hannah began her own song of praise: "My heart rejoiceth in the LORD, mine horn is exalted in the LORD: my mouth is enlarged over mine enemies; because I rejoice in thy salvation." She praises God with all that she has, including the secret, inner things of her heart and soul. In the power of God, her head is lifted up with joy and pride, the way an animal with horns lifts up its head to challenge the entire world. Her "mouth is enlarged" because in speaking the praises of God, the truth of Godís glory drowns out the voices of all the naysayers who would demean what God has done for her. Her salvation by God is not only in the hereafter, but also in the here and now as God has come to her aid and made her a part of his creative and redeeming purposes. 

Hannahís Song, moreover, should sound very familiar to us, especially if we say the Daily Office of Evening Prayer. The Magnificat of St. Mary the Virgin that we say every evening is another motherís song, and it is based on the model of Hannahís Song. When St. Mary, pregnant with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, went to visit her cousin Elisabeth, miraculously pregnant herself in her old age with her son John the Baptist, Elisabeth said, "And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" (Luke 1:43). St. Mary answered her with her own version of the Song of Hannah: 

My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. For he hath regarded the lowliness of his handmaiden. For behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. For he that is mighty hath magnified me; and holy is his Name. 

It should be no surprise that the strongest female voices in the Bible should be two mothers thanking God for their children. Without denying the goodness or the necessity of all the other callings that God has bestowed upon the human race, we must observe that nowhere else does God admit a man or a woman into the act of divine creation, except in the creation of a living human being. A mother and a father are the procreators with God of their children. 

Yes, we talk of "creativity" in the arts, in architecture, and in science. But paintings fade, buildings crumble, and theories pass away. Only God himself is eternal, and only a human being created in Godís image and likeness will last forever. The one thing that a man and a woman can do that will last eternally is to join God in creating a child, and to join God in raising that child for eternal life. 

By happy coincidence, today is Motherís Day. The world, however, gives mixed signals about motherhood. While today will be given over to flowers, cards, and every sort of sentimentality, tomorrow will belong again to the dismissal of real motherhood, to the denigration of the kind of sacrificial motherhood that values the gifts of God more than social approval, feminist theory, and the pursuit of material wealth. In our society, tomorrow will belong to Dr. Ruth and Jerry Springer, rather than to the mothers and fathers who have humbly accepted the call to join God in the procreation and nurture of children. 

But our fellowship with God in Jesus Christ is greater than any human society. The voices of Hannah and St. Mary really are louder than the voices of those who deny the greatness of motherhood and the dignity of that vocation. Hannah and Mary speak across the ages to declare the awesome authority and responsibility that come with Godís gift of motherhood, and they speak of the immense graces that God also offers to sustain the women who receive this calling. 

We should thank God for our mothers today, and we should love them. But we should also respect them and honor them, as Godís commandment teaches, for the high office that they hold in the kingdom of God. Every revolution is against something. The "sexual revolution" is a rebellion against the plans and purposes of God, and against the dignity of marriage and parenthood as he has chosen to ordain them. When we finally offer all faithful mothers the honor they deserve as women chosen for Godís holiest purposes, the giving of life in this world and of eternal life in the world to come, we will begin to quell that rebellion and return to peace with God and one another. And we will rejoice with Hannah and Mary in Godís salvation. 
 

Please note: These sermons are offered for your meditation. If you wish to use them for some other purpose or republish them, please credit St. Andrewís Church and Dr. Tarsitano.