Sermon for Lent 4 (Mothering Sunday)

In today’s gospel reading Simeon tells Mary that her soul will be pierced !

On the joyous occasion of her son’s presentation in the Temple, faithful old Simeon steps forward, rejoices at seeing the baby he recognizes as the long-awaited Messiah and speaks dark and portentous words.

As he holds the promised salvation of God in his arms, Simeon explains that this vulnerable young child is a sign … a sign indicating the moment when the history of the world is going to change for ever.

Then Simeon utters those dark words: and a sword will pierce your own soul too.

Everyone who is a parent will know that parenthood is both a joy and a privilege … they will also know that there are moments when the soul is pierced too.

In our Old Testament lesson we are reminded of the soul-piercing agony of Moses’ mother as she sought to save her son’s life by hiding him in a basket in a river – a river that would certainly have been home to crocodiles!

And … thanks to the gift of hindsight … we know that Mary will stand at the foot of the cross watching her precious child being mocked, humiliated and murdered.

Every parent knows that, even in the most ordered and settled of families, children bring both joy and pain, both delight and agony … that is just the way it is in this human world of ours!

Of course, Mothering Sunday is not primarily about the ups and downs of human parenthood.

Yes, it is a day in the middle of our Lenten discipline when we can relax and give thanks for our mothers but, historically, it is also the day for returning to and giving thanks for our ‘mother church’.

In earlier times young people in domestic service would have returned home on this day to see mum, and to their mother church for worship.

In our benefice we are blessed with six mother churches … six churches that have witnessed this day of homecoming for almost a thousand years.

No matter how small the community may be now, just imagine how many people have been in our church on Mothering Sunday before us!

Over the last year we have been called to ponder upon our relationship with our mother church.

In 2020, because of the coronavirus pandemic, all churches in this country were closed just three days before Mothering Sunday.

That state of affairs prevailed until July, or later.

Many people expressed feelings of disquiet and disappointment that their mother church had abandoned them, but … that was not really the case!

Mother Church has not been the same for the last year, but it has continued to serve the community in which it is situated as well as a much wider community through the use of modern technology.

  • There has been an ongoing ministry of prayer and worship.
  • There has been nurture and fellowship.
  • There has been support for those who have had to celebrate and mark life events in different ways.

There has been the laying of the foundations for a new way of worshipping God … a new way that will be the inevitable consequence of the financial and social circumstances in which we now find ourselves.

As we think back to our own childhoods we recall the comfort and consolation of the familiar, but we will also recall those times when our mothers took us by the hand and led us down new paths … whether that was moving house, or moving school, or negotiating other life-changing moments.

We find ourselves on this Mothering Sunday seeing our mother church taking on a similar role.

We see our mother church responding to the necessities of life at this point in the twenty-first century … necessities that will prevent things ever being quite the same again.

As mother church strives to do the best for us, let us continue the age-old tradition of giving thanks on this day for her love and nurture, and let us pray that she might remain strong and faithful in her ministry to all.