Mother’s Day fast approaches and I find that my sermon preparation for this annual fixture on the ecclesiastical calendar is laced with more than a little anxiety and much floor pacing.
That this day-long celebration of all things maternal should cast such a long shadow over my normally sanguine demeanour will no doubt surprise you. Should not a man of the cloth such as myself exist in a perpetual state of being ‘on top of the world’ to quote that catchy ditty by those paragons of popular music, The Carpenters (who, I gather, no longer grace the popular hit parade as much as one would like).
In an ideal world the answer to such searching a question would indeed be a hearty affirmative except for the fact that on this occasion (and on too many others, I confess) I appear to fall foul of sound judgement and simply cannot seem to help myself in slipping into a default mode of, as the idiom would have it, ‘putting my foot in it’.
My impending state of gloom and foreboding in respect of the looming spectre of this year’s Mothering Sunday is due in its entirety to my well-intentioned but ill-judged (with hindsight) attempt to capitalise on the renown of that most famous of mums, Mary the [birth] mother of Jesus, on the occasion of last year’s celebration of motherhood.
Had I but the good sense to enlighten that veritable fount of wisdom, my good lady wife, as to my plans then the crisis that was wrought would probably been averted. In that I didn’t see fit to share my inspired sermon illustration with her prior to its disastrous launch is a decision to be forever rued.
I had cleverly (or so I thought) hit upon the idea of asking the children, on that fated day, to remain (or perhaps more accurately, to be restrained) in the service for an additional five minutes whilst I recounted the story of when Jesus asked his good friend John to look after his dear mother from that day hence.
And how better to bring this poignant scene to life than by myself taking the role of Jesus himself and employing the services of two of St Cliff’s regulars to play the parts of Mary and John. What could possibly go wrong?
As the service proceeded I had what can only described as an epiphany, though please don’t tell the bishop, he is a stickler for keeping to the aforementioned church calendar and any such mention of a juxtaposition of epiphany (the festival or otherwise) and Mothering Sunday could be enough to bring about a recurrence of his nervous tick. It was this unfortunate ailment that put on hold his regular attendance at the local auction rooms when one too many twitches of his head unwittingly purchased him job lots of house clearance paraphernalia and which also emptied his bank account in the process.
Placed as if by some divine appointment on the front pew beneath my very eyes was none other than the parish’s most fearsome of octogenarians, Mrs [Mary] Pilkington-Smythe and beside her, oblivious to the imminent trauma that was about to be visited upon him, Jonathan Biggins, about the most timid five year old you could ever expect to meet.
It is my heartfelt suspicion that Mrs Pilkington-Smythe was the inspiration for Roald Dahl’s terrifying Miss Trunchbull character which only compounds my dreadful decision to enlist this real life Mary and John into my biblical re-enactment.
My next precipitous move down this slippery slope was to quote Jesus’ very own words “Dear woman, here is your son” with as much Shakespearean gravitas as I could muster.
To everyone’s surprise Mrs Pilkington-Smythe promptly rose to her feet and embraced the quivering lad as a man-eating octopus (if there were such fanciful a creature) might enclose its prey.
The alarm bells ringing in my head should have stopped me in my tracks and caused me to do some sort of audit of the repercussions of this enactment.
They did not. I was enjoying my moment in all its thespian glory.
“Son”, I continued in full Gielgudian flow “here is your mother”.
One can only but imagine that the terrified child thought that he had been put up for adoption with the ancient battleaxe and which is why to this day St Cliff’s, as gesture of remorse (chiefly on my part), is funding his weekly trauma counselling sessions.
Let us hope (and pray) that this Mother’s Day is less dramatic, in every sense.
Onward and upward