Fourth Sunday of Lent
Introduction and Call to Worship
Today, as well as giving thanks for mothers, we also celebrate God’s mothering love. Male or female, parents or not, this is something we can all share. And we give thanks that humanity is inherently good as we try to look for the good in each other over the bad.
First Reading Exodus 2:1-10
Parenthood’s roller coaster takes this mother from joyful childbirth, through painful separation, to the relief of reunion. Moses would play a vital role in Israel’s salvation.
Or 1 Samuel 1:20-end
Long childless, Hannah finally knew the joy of bearing a son but let him go to fulfil his own destiny in Israel’s story.
Second Reading 2 Corinthians 1:3-7
Like the best human parents, God gives consolation.
Or Colossians 3:12-17
God’s compassion, kindness and patience were vividly revealed in Jesus.
Gospel John 19:25b-27
Jesus reminds us that it is not only birth parents who can offer a mother’s love to those who need it.
Or Luke 2:33-35
Mary is forewarned by Simeon of her pain, as Jesus fulfils his destiny.
HOMILY “And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:35)
Today we rejoice and give thanks to God for our Mothers: for those who have guided us and been a help, even an inspiration in our lives. Mums hold a special affection in our lives. They are the ones who give birth to us, and it is natural that we have a very special bond with them.
Last week Fr Gerard talked about the amazing relationship that Jesus has with all people – whoever we are, our Lord calls us into a spiritual relationship of love; women and men equally, without prejudice. The Christian faith is all about relationship and God’s intention that we may be part of a bigger family, the family of faith. On this Mothering Sunday, the Gospel predicts tears for Mary, the mother of Jesus. On a day, which was supposed to be a day of celebration for Mary, Simeon’s dire warning comes as a shock. It is a very short reading, just three verses, so it helps if we remember that it’s part of a longer story – one that contains not just a warning, but also celebration; not just sadness, but also joy – very much like parenthood itself.
I’m sure that many of us here felt a sharp pain, shock and deep sadness in our hearts as we watched the scenes on Wednesday from Westminster of violence and death as one very misguided, possibly delusional fanatic attempted and thankfully failed to dent our democracy and our spirit. At such times, it is easy to focus on the questions of why and how; but I was struck by the immediate response of so many people who put their own lives and fears aside in order that they could help, care for, love and protect others. As they dashed into harm’s way, they demonstrated in action true humanity, love of neighbour and the love which we believe is God- given. This is the same love which Jesus pours out from the cross as his mother Mary stands beneath, with her heart broken and yet so full of love.
Mary is never at the forefront of any story in which she is present. Like those first responders on Wednesday who are usually just in the background, often taken for granted. Yet they are there, to care, to love, to heal and put others first. The role of a Mother – a care giver, a parent. No moment can be as poignant as when Mary is stood at the foot of the cross, looking up to her Son. ‘Standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother…’ St John goes on to write, ‘When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your Son.” Then, he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother”.’ (John 19: 26, 27) The feelings of Christ and his mother Mary must have been unbearable, feelings of sadness, feelings of hurt, feelings of regret and impending separation. The writer of the book of Lamentations says: ‘All you, who pass this way, look and see: Is there any sorrow like the sorrow that afflicts me? … How can I describe you, to what compare you, daughter of Jerusalem?’ (Lamentations 1:12)
No one can remain untouched by the emotions of this scene. Mother and Son are reunited. Mary’s loyalty is unstinting. Mary’s giving of herself is without measure. And now she must bear that pain, foretold by Simeon in the Temple at her purification, when he told her that a sword would pierce her own soul too. Indeed, there can be many pains that parents must bear. Watching their children grow up, experience all the pitfalls of life, sometimes being unable to help or prevent difficulties or dangers. And we can, if we allow ourselves, live in fear – but that is not God’s way.
As we reflect this week upon the events at Westminster that have sickened us, the sinful actions we believe of one or just a few people, we should turn our gaze away from the why and who to reflect upon the bigger picture, the great love that has been poured out by many, many more people in their help and care for others in need. The outstanding work of our emergency services, the policeman who died protecting our freedom. The casual passer-by who reached out to help. The tube station staff who kept hundreds of children safe with their quick thinking. So much potential sacrifice by so many, so much greater than any individual terrorist or mad man and their dreaded ambitions. For, friends, humanity is inherently good – we are made in the image of God and part of the family which Jesus himself came to embrace as he opened wide his arms of love for all of us while taking all our sins upon his shoulders as he hung dying upon the cross. God is indeed love. Mary stands at the foot of the cross full of love, too, for her innocent Son.
At times of tragedy our thoughts turn to our own families, closest friends and relations. How do we think of them? Do we take their love for granted? Do we take their love as our right without really trying to return it? We also remember and pray for all mothers who grieve for their children – especially those who lost a loved one in tragic circumstances – and we pray for those, who at great sacrifice to themselves, struggle to remain faithful and committed to their relationships.
Let us commit ourselves to be like Mary in our relationships with our families. Let us support and encourage all our families in the faith, praying with and for them, making our homes truly Christian. This means allowing God’s love for us to shine through us into the lives of all whom we love. It means following our family in their journey of life, pointing them gently to God’s love for them, and offering all their troubles to God in prayer. I pray that we may be like Mary in our willingness to allow God to use our lives, our bodies and souls, to his service, in the world, for the good of others – like those first responders this week – placing the needs of others before our own selves and in the process demonstrating God’s very presence as the people he has made us to be. People who respect life and value it – people who love – people who seek healing and reconciliation. Amen.
Jesus calls all people whoever they are into his forgiving love and he has work for all of us to be about.
Mary was warned by Simeon in the Temple to expect pain – and she did as she stood at the foot of the Lord’s cross.
Like all our relationships, faith has its ups and downs, but God is always forgiving, indeed reconciling.
The relationship between God and humans was restored by the cross, a painful sacrifice made by a loving parent.