Locum services Lent 4 Sermon

Ministry of the Word for Lent 4, Mothering Sunday

In the middle of Lent the intensity of Lenten thinking and action eases a little to encourage us to think about home, family, motherhood and Mother Church, and give thanks for the fact that we are cherished and nurtured by them, and formed spiritually by them into disciples of the Lord. While thinking of the security and comfort that motherhood conveys, we are also soberly reminded of the suffering which mothers can experience due to their children and family, seen today in the person of Mary at the foot of the cross of Jesus her son.

Collect for Mothering Sunday 

God of compassion, whose Son Jesus Christ, the child of Mary, shared the life of a home in Nazareth, and on the cross drew the whole human family to himself: strengthen us in our daily living that in joy and in sorrow we may know the power of your presence to bind together and to heal; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen

A reading from St Paul’s Letter to the Colossians (3.12-17)

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
This is the Word of the Lord
Thanks be to God
Praise to you O Christ, King of eternal glory
O that today you would listen to his voice, harden not your hearts!
Praise to you O Christ, King of eternal glory

The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to St John (19.23-27)

Glory to you O Lord!
23 When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. 24 “Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.” This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said, “They divided my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.” So this is what the soldiers did. 25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman,[b] here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
This is the Gospel of the Lord
Praise to you O Christ!

Sermon

Today is Mothering Sunday, when we think about, and value home, family, and the community were raised in especially at this time of grave international health crisis when everything about our way of life seems under threat.
Today let’s see the Church not as a big international or even a local institution, but in all shapes and forms, like a mother to us, a source of spiritual nurture. Churches everywhere however are closed for services, only open for personal prayer due to coronavirus. It happened in places during the 1918 ‘flu pandemic and other times in history during plague seasons. Mother Church hasn’t abandoned us however.
Church communities seeks to nurture, support and encourage us at every stage in life’s changes and challenges from start to finish. It helps us learn to celebrate and sob with each other, to grow in faith and love for God, to reach out with Good News of divine compassion and forgiveness, revealed in Jesus. It’s what faithful mothers do, and what a mothering church does too, in whatever way is possible.
I’m a cradle Anglican, grateful for the nurture I received growing up. I was enlisted for Confirmation when I was eleven, understood vaguely that it was part of my journey to adulthood, a coming of age in the community of faith I belonged to.
When two of us came to kneel before the Bishop to receive confirmation of the Spirit - one for each episcopal hand, I knelt next to a local boy who’d teased and bullied me. I hated him, he was my enemy, but there we were, kneeling side by
side. All I could think of as the Bishop prayed was that if I was going to be a disciple of Jesus, I’d have to love my enemy. How at the age of eleven did that come into my awestruck mind?
Did I hear this read out or preached on in church? If so, I can’t remember when. Did it come from my mother, who took me to church with her, patiently trying to respond to this child’s religious curiosity? I’ll never know. Whichever way this call
from Jesus entered my mind, the Spirit prompted it then. I sensed it was going to be the challenge of a lifetime, and it still is, sixty four years later.
The stable nurturing character of traditional parish religion is thought of as dull and old fashioned, often rejected by people today, who feel they can’t relate to anything that isn’t new, appealing, exciting.
But what else do you expect from Mother Church, except to be mothered, feel cherished and safe in God’s presence, no need for excitement or mystification or extra stimulus. This is the stable foundation of spiritual life, even for those who have no family or broken and failing families.
Paul speaks to the Colossians about positive loving mutually nurturing relationships in the Christian community. It’s what should be true of every church, traditional or trendy, but is it always so? Think of the divisions, contentions, politics and power struggles within Christ’s Body down the ages.
Half way through Lent, we start looking towards Good Friday. The Gospels tell us certain women followed and supported Jesus and his disciples and accompanied him on mission - they were widows or single women financially independent and
free, their conventional lives were challenged by hearing Jesus talk about God’s kingdom. They too became his disciples. Even if they don’t get much mention in the story, they were there, maybe making the Last Supper, on top of many other meals shared with the men. Three were there as witnesses to Jesus’ crucifixion. One of them was Mary, Jesus’ mother. Early on she’d pursued him, begged him to give up preaching and go home. He didn’t reject her but challenged her saying “ Whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my mother, sister and brother .” She was widowed, and began to follow and support Jesus with the other women. She came close to the foot of his Cross to grieve over losing him. She saw his dead body taken down and made ready for burial.
Can we imagine this mother’s suffering, doubled by knowing from the outset that he was destined for a unique role in God’s plan, then seeing him rejected, cruelly tortured, his body desecrated. Such a terrible blasphemous faith destroying failure. Unthinkable, impossible but it happened and like any devoted mother Mary doesn’t turn away from her son. She’s here for him bravely to the end.
Jesus sees her at the foot of the cross, he entrusts her future care to his beloved disciple John, realising how traumatic and soul breaking an experience his death will be for her.
His resurrection is hidden from her at first. She plumbs the depths of his darkness.
It’s what mothers do. This, a truly mothering church does with those she nurtures. Women at the heart of any family understand it. Today we give thanks for this.
No Semana Santa processions this year. Remember how for each passion tableau paraded through the streets one is paraded with an image of Mary?
From a distance, these look the same, tastelessly over-dressed, but their gestures and facial expressions, along with special titles given to each one tell a different story. They speak of a mother suffering with each painful blow her son receives,
she’s helpless to prevent.
Catholic mothers identify with these images, seeing in them their own sufferings reflected. It’s not idol worship. It helps them enter into the experience of what our Lord’s sufferings mean, what we can learn from them, how we can be nourished by them, grow in faith to see in every mother’s love another expression of ‘ God so loved the world, he gave his only Son. ’
When the epidemic subsides and the world counts the death toll, much grief will pour out from human hearts. Maybe then, sad and sorrowful images of Mary’s suffering will seem less mystifying to us, and make a different kind of sense.
In all these untimely deaths may the world also glimpse our Lord’s suffering for our sin, and open all human hearts to the power of his redeeming work.