Have you any idea how much stuff we throw away these days? Packaging and plastic bags, old clothes that would have been mended years ago. Computers and cameras and televisions that are out of date. Things don’t seem to last as long, do they? It’s often less expensive to throw something away and buy a new one than to get something mended.
But not everything gets thrown away, even now. Some things we keep. Some stuff is special. I had to do a talk for the children from Whitfield School, who brought their mothers to church this morning, so I started by asking if any of them collect anything.
Because some children collect toy cars, or My Little Pony figures, or teddy bears. We had a house full of cuddly beavers when our boys were young. I used to collect stamps – pretty boring actually, when you think back! I suggested that they might think mums are too busy to collect things, apart from things like clothes that need washing. But mums collect memories, and they treasure these.
Do you remember the day you were born? No, but your mother did. She was there, I guarantee it. There may or may not be a collection of photographs to record the scene, for taking photographs in a delivery room is s relatively modern phenomenon. But mother remembered. She remembered how much she was looking forward to meeting you. Perhaps she remembered how scared she was, if you were the first, and she wasn’t sure what to do. But she also remembered how happy she felt when you were born, and how proud of you she was.
Do you remember when your first tooth came through? I bet your mother did. Because you were probably really miserable, and she couldn’t work out why, at first. What was the first word you ever said? It was probably ‘mum’, or ‘dad’, or possibly ‘num-nums’; but your mum remembered. She remembered the first steps you ever took, and your first day at school. When you sang whatever was the equivalent of ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’ at the Allendale Christingle, even though you don’t. Mums remember things like this. They collect them, the way children collect toys. They treasure them.
I don’t remember coming home upset by falling out with a friend of mine. But my mother would have been able to tell you, because she remembered helping me cope, helping me find a way of making up again. We think that once we grow too big, mums stop picking us up and holding us, but that’s not true. They go on holding us in a cradle of memories, all their lives.
I remember being ill when I was young. I’m sure I’ve told you before, how my mum would tuck me up in bed, and make me bread and milk: little cubes of sliced bread in warm milk, and sprinkled with nutmeg. You can never feel quite so poorly after a bowl of bread and milk. Or perhaps it was knowing you were loved, held; and that she was there, that made you feel better.
Because I don’t remember the first time I cut my knee (do you?). Yet I do remember the first time I cut my knee and mum was not there to kiss it better. I was three, and mum had gone home, and left me at nursery school!! But of course, I’ve forgotten all the other cuts and bruises, because she was there to help me get over them.
Of course, mums forget a lot of things too. All the times they had to get up in the night when we were tiny. All of the things they had to give up, in order to look after us. All the ways in which they helped us become real people, rather than little monsters… We for our part, we also forget. We forget all of the millions of simple things our mothers did, which we never even noticed, never ever said ‘thank you’ for, that showed they loved us. It’s a good thing they never sent us a bill.
Mothers treasure up memories. That’s why mothers don’t get to make speeches at weddings: can you imagine all the stories they could tell, that you probably wouldn’t have wanted made public, like that day you got a boiled sweet stuck to your head, and didn’t notice? Or falling in the stream in your best clothes, half an hour before granny arrived to take you out? Or the day you decided to cut your sister’s hair? Lots of memories are best not shared in public. Mums still remember, though.
St Luke tells us that Jesus’ mother, Mary, treasures up memories. She remembers the strange, wonderful events of his birth, and all the odd visitors she had. She remembers the story of the journey to the great festival in Jerusalem, and how worried she was when she and Joseph discovered that Jesus was nowhere to be found; and what a strange reply he gave, when they asked him what he thought he was doing, getting lost like that. ‘Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ Sometimes we tell each other that children say the funniest things. But years later, as Mary remembers, it all becomes clear to her what Jesus meant.
She remembers the time at the wedding, when they ran out of wine, and Jesus told her it wasn’t his time yet, but she told the servants to do whatever he told them; and in the end there was far more wine than anyone could drink. She remembers the day of his trial. She remembers the day he was put to death: this day is cut into her soul like the piercing of a sword.
But Mary remembers too the day he was raised to new life: the rapture on the faces of her friends, her own wonder, and disbelief, and growing amazement. The exhaustion, after all that she’d been through; and the happiness, the joy that she felt. All this, Mary treasures up in her heart. Despite everything that happens, in Mary’s eyes, Jesus will always be her son, the little boy she had to go back to the Temple to find.
We call God ‘Father’; but there are lots of ways in which he behaves like a mother as well. Finding us when we are lost. Comforting us when we are sad, or in pain. Helping us to achieve what is best for us. Giving us life. Instead of discarding us like rubbish that has no use, he holds our lives in his memory. He treasures each one of us, day by day, hour by hour. As we remember to thank him today, we thank our mothers also, and many of us treasure their memory now.
© Jon Russell 2019