22 March 2020
The Fourth Sunday of Lent
Jesus’ father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’Luke 2:33-35
We are living in strange and challenging times. We are surrounded by acts of kindness and true Christian love even though the media seems to be full of so many stories about selfishness and greed. It is good for us to pause and reflect on the message of today’s short Gospel reading as we consider what is going on in the world around us.
This moment in the Gospel narrative comes when Jesus is presented in the Temple. It is a moment we usually associate with Candlemas, the official end of the Church’s celebration of Christmas. We hear it again today because today is celebrated in the Church’s calendar as Mothering Sunday.
Perhaps it seems strange that we should be hearing a prediction of Jesus’ forthcoming agony and death at a time when we are sending cards and buying presents for our own mothers. Well, I believe, that this moment reminds us not only of the joy of motherhood, but also of those moments when selfless love shows itself as the true sign of being a good mother.
Historically, Mothering Sunday was not about the cards and gifts or the special meals we cook for our mothers. In earlier times, Mothering Sunday was about people returning home to their ‘mother churches’ and giving thanks for the love and care we have received from them. Today that is not going to be so easy. Because of the constraints that have been put on us gathering together our ‘mother churches’ are closed for public worship.
So many people have spoken to me about this in the last few days. Why can’t we come together in prayer? Why can’t we just sit apart a bit and still say our prayers together? Why can’t we join with the clergy as they say their daily prayers? It wasn’t like this when the bombs were falling during the war! The questions and the comments have been coming thick and fast.
On Tuesday of last week, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York suspended all public worship for the foreseeable future. This must have seemed such a confusing decision for the leaders of our church to have taken. But, is it that confusing? Our churches are still open for people to go and pray, or to light a candle, or just to rest in God’s presence. Your clergy are still offering Morning and Evening Prayer and they have instituted a daily celebration of the Lord’s Supper – that which he commanded us to do in remembrance of Him. Yes, we are taking the apparently strange action of separating the laity from the clergy in the way we worship God, but that can be empowering as well as confusing.
The Archbishops urged us to recognize that in the coming days, weeks, even months we are going to have to view the Church of England in a different way. What that statement is really doing is inviting us to take more personal responsibility for our prayer life. The repetition of time-honoured formulae can make us lazy in prayer, if we are not careful. The chance to pause and simply speak to God is not something that many people remember to do, and especially when all is looking so bleak in the big, wide world.
When the elderly Simeon warned Mary that a sword will pierce your own soul too she did not have a clue what he meant. When the Archbishops declared public worship ‘closed’ we were thrown into the same level of confusion. So, what does it all mean?
Well, for Mary there was going to be three more years of confusion. She was ultimately going to see her precious son die the horrendous death of crucifixion before she was going to come to know the joyous victory of the resurrection. For us, we are going to have to travel through a shorter period of confusion while we let our medical and scientific experts restore some sense of stability in our lives. Mary did not have a clue what Simeon meant, we are not in that position. We do know that researchers are already making progress with vaccines and procedures that will allow us to come out of our self-isolation and gather together in joyous Christian worship.
For Mary, there were yet to be three years of uncertainty, worry, even fear. For us, there is going to be days, weeks and perhaps months – but we can see that there will be an end, if we allow reason, rather than hysteria to rule our hearts.
So, what can we do to both honour the celebration of Mothering Sunday and find the fortitude to work together towards a bright new future when our communities can once again gather and celebrate?
I would suggest that we remember that the Church is a loving mother to us all. Prayer is still going on. It is going on for you and amongst you. I pray that there may be even more of it. Remember, you don’t need a formal set of words to pray to God – you just need to talk to him as you would to a friend, or even to your mother.
I would urge you to give thanks that the Archbishops have been bold enough to take our health so seriously that they have taken a step that has never been taken before – not even when the bombs were dropping!
I urge you to not only pray but to live out the Christian message of love and service by caring for each other. That includes not picking up all those unnecessary items in the supermarket and allowing others the opportunity to live a decent life too.
I would encourage you to look out for each other in prayer, love and kindness. The kindness of a mother is the stuff of stories. Let us lift that kindness off the page of the story books and turn it into a new reality.
Oh, and by the way, all this applies to the men as well!!!
God of love,
passionate and strong,
tender and careful:
watch over us and hold us
all the days of our life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Revd Stephen Buckman