Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Lent (Mothering Sunday)
26th Mar 2017
Sermon for Mothering Sunday (4th Sunday of Lent)
This morning the Church observes not just one but three commemorations, namely the Fourth Sunday of Lent, Refreshment (‘Laetere’) Sunday and also Mothering Sunday. It seems eccentric that this should be so, and that a rare liturgical colour, rose , or pink, should set the tone for a Lenten Sunday which provides not for a deepening of intensity in our Christian observance of Lent but for an outburst of what in Latin is ‘Laetere’ or joy. Combine all this with Mothering Sunday and the sense of mid-Lenten eccentricity is complete. In typical English fashion, we keep the tradition of remembering and honouring our Mothers from days when servants, many of them older children or adolescents, were allowed this Sunday in Lent to return home to their mothers. If they worked in a big house, a kindly cook might well have baked Simnel Cakes as a seasonal offering for the servants to take to their mothers.
The Church seems at first to have made things even more complicated by offering us a choice of two Gospel readings. One is Simeon’s prediction to Mary that her child Jesus would suffer and that ‘a sword would pierce her own soul’. The second Gospel takes us to the Cross and to the suffering Christ, who even from the place of agony encourages a new and future relationship between his beloved disciple John and his Mother, Mary, “Behold thy Son” and “Behold thy Mother”.
As we begin to understand these Gospel accounts we find that they are complimentary and speak of all those things which Lent, Mothering Sunday and Refreshment Sunday express. And it is this: Any experience of a close and loving and committed relationship is at some time or another going to demand of us a costly love. The Gospel message swings between love as consolation and as desolation. Any mother or father or husband, wife or lover knows how painful it is to have to have to relinquish, to let go or to suffer the death of one who has been our life and our love. Such an experience strikes at the very heart of what we are. For parents this might commonly involve the son or the daughter who leaves home as a young adult and away from the childhood home, just like the Victorian child servant. Equally there are times when the young, having ‘fled the nest’ themselves feel homesick and very alone. For others in middle age there may come the death of a parent or parents. For some, the break-up of a past relationship continues to be painful and some of its effects do not seem to be relieved with the passing of time. For the elderly there are the many little and bigger losses that come with encroaching frailty and the loss of faculties once taken for granted, and of the deaths of contemporaries.
The two Gospels offered allow for an understanding of human loving which inevitably involves pain. But this is not to be the end of the matter. We are reminded that, even from the Cross, our Saviour Jesus Christ offers new life and proclaims aloud that even out of great sadness and even death, the possibility of new relationships and new understandings and new hope is being promised by the dying Saviour on the Cross. ‘Behold thy Mother’; ‘Behold thy Son’. In the Cross life and death mixes and merges in the one sacrifice. God’s life and our lives and loves mix and merge in the one faith, the one hope and the one love. In the same vein the prayer for the mixing of wine and water at the Eucharistic Offering outlines Christ’s sacrifice for a deepening of trust in the outpouring of time with the healing of wounds. ‘By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity’. This is a prayer which perfectly betokens the love of God as one which is always offered to share. The promise of this sharing is that it will be renewing and transforming.
I have been reminded, after this week’s catastrophe on Westminster Bridge, that new relationships may emerge among those who experience the terrible pain and distress of death and destruction, with those who also stand alongside and with them, ready to offer their trained and disciplined human skills and compassionate care. God’s love remains constant and present in any and every danger but it is heartening to see practical love in action. In it, we see the formation of new hope and trust in our common humanity, especially as we saw the medical team attempting to give the perpetrator of the horrors the kiss of life. We witness such actions as they counter the malicious evil with dedicated care and professionalism.
The great holy English mother, Mother Julian of Norwich observed that “The dear gracious hands of God our Mother are ever about us”. This might seem fantastical given this week’s circumstances, but nonetheless our own instinct as Christians is find love’s meaning in God and to remain steadfast in the faith to which we are continually being called. We are called, beckoned to come to God, just as the servants journeyed out for the day to meet their own mothers and to enjoy the communion of their love. This is the ‘laetere’, the integrated life of love which Christ which this morning speaks to us on the Cross through the lives of his Mother, Mary and the beloved disciple, John. “Behold thy Mother, Behold thy Son. The Cross still beckons us at this time, and through our mid to late Lenten observance, we are being drawn inexorably not toward death alone but for the sake of our souls’ ultimate salvation.