Midwifery and mission: contradicting darkness to bring forth life.
The sculpture, a bronze relief on a stone plinth, connects the women of the Exodus story to the symbol of the burning bush in the rose window of the church.
The Exodus is a key event in the history and faith of Israel and the church. At first Egypt was a place of refuge for the people of Israel, but when Joseph died a change of government turned the land of freedom into a place of oppression and slavery. The once welcome guests now became feared aliens in the land and so a fearful government legislated to take control. All newborn boys were to be killed at birth. Thanks to the creative civil disobedience of the midwives the order to kill was thwarted. Pharaoh did not know Joseph, nor did he know the life-preserving ways of Joseph’s God. When it comes to the forces of blessing and life, the powerful have no real power at all.
The burning bush in which God appeared to Moses in Exodus has long been a symbol of faith. It is the central image of the rose window in our Church. We are inclined to think the book of Exodus is an epic about Moses alone as hero of the faith. But before he comes on the scene we are introduced to Shiphrah and Puah, two brave and crafty midwives who stand guard over the birth of many Hebrew children, including Moses. After the midwives have disobeyed Pharaoh and brought forth another bonnie Hebrew boy – the future leader of the people – they are joined by three other women: Moses’ mother Jochebed who contradicted Pharaoh’s orders; Moses’ sister Miriam who watched over her baby brother and artfully intervened when he was discovered; and Pharaoh’s daughter whose compassionate heart led her to flaunt her father’s wishes to preserve Moses’ life.
Five feisty females, Middle Eastern women living under an oppressive regime, courageously chose to preserve and nurture life against the blood chilling decrees of the government. Through their interventions the blessing and promises of God go forward. The two we know least about are the midwives Shiphrah and Puah. Their work is effective and invisible; it happens off stage without fanfare. Their names mean ‘beauty’ and ‘splendour’. The beauty and splendour of God is revealed in these two seemingly powerless people whose faithful but unusual efforts serve God.
The support of the other three women creates one of the great ironies of this story. Moses, the future resistance leader of the people, Pharaoh’s greatest enemy, is nurtured under Pharaoh’s roof.
The sculpture represents life’s resistance to, and defeat of, death and bondage in the Exodus. It prefigures the second Exodus made by Jesus in the cross and resurrection, through whom God offers the gift of life out of death for all people. Because of this life given to us, we as Congregation and Mission seek to offer new life to others, through the interrelated actions of worship and mission, acts of midwifery inspired by the Spirit of God.
The Midwifery Model
Midwifery, based on the idea of bringing forth life, is a metaphor for the imperative for the church to be at mission. We are all called to be ‘midwives of faith and life’. The concept of midwifery comes from the biblical and theological background drawn from Exodus 1:8-2:10.
The midwives are a model of what the creative power of God is like:
- It is compassionate, treating human life as sacred.
- It uses daring means and works through the small and weak to overcome the strength of the mighty, bringing freedom and life for many. It was no small thing to resist: Pharaoh represented the pinnacle of human power. And there have been many Pharaohs in history, to our present day.
- Professionally a midwife is a companion to another, brave and wise enough to enter into realms that are deep and intimate to facilitate and preserve life.
- A person, or a congregation, or a group, may serve as a midwife by supporting and facilitating new faith and life in others. Being a midwife is a role that is not restricted to being a woman, or an expert. There are midwives in this congregation and this congregation and mission may themselves be midwives, assisting to bring forth new life and faith among us, and in this community.
This Sculpture is one thing added to the forecourt – it represents the sort of outreach expressed by Hotham Mission in the Asylum Seeker Project, in offering succour to prisoners, in supporting the high-rise community through the food bank, and in supporting the Senior Citizens club.
Our vision is that this Sculpture will be the first piece in a mosaic of changes that emerge and grow, to bring life to this neighbourhood through offering compassionate hospitality and advocacy for others.