The Gospel reading for the Eucharist today is John 11.1-45; the death and the raising of Lazarus. Though we’re still journeying on in these Lenten days preceding Easter, we look forward to realising afresh that where there is death, Christ has the victory.
As I prepare the blog for Sunday, it’s Saturday evening and I’m putting the finishing touches to the Mothering Sunday sermon; I say sermon, but it’s become affectionately known as ‘the talky bit’ at our all-age Eucharists. And, once again, I’m faced with the fact that, for some, this day of refreshment on the Fourth Sunday of Lent, is a day of joy, celebrating mothering, our mothers, being a mother, whilst for others this is a day of hurt, feelings of loss, grief. It might even be a time of both joy and pain – bitter-sweet memories, hard to hold in check in the wide-eyed happiness of others.
With the help of the church warden and some of our young people, at the start of ‘the talky bit’ I’m going to be presented with a Simnel cake from which I shall take a slice (I now have a reputation for getting food – cake, chocolate, even bacon and eggs – into my sermons, talks and assemblies). The idea is that this will remind us of a time when domestic servants were given a ‘day off’ to visit ‘Mother Church’ with their families, visiting their mothers too, perhaps picking some wild flowers along the way and, in some instances, taking a Simnel cake too. I think that’s a good enough reason to scoff cake in front of the vicar (I’m the Assistant-Curate at Bourne Abbey, Lincolnshire). The hope is – and this ‘talky bit’ has been prepared by others as well as myself – that we will realise that the celebration of mothers on this day is a joyful, sumptuous slice of cake, but it is one slice of a much bigger cake, or, rather, a much bigger story. Wherever we’ve come from – whether we’re directly rejoicing in the gift of motherhood, or grieving at the loss of a mother or bearing the pain of not being able to be a mother (there are so many different scenarios), we all get to be a part of that bigger story, and we all have the example of devoted motherhood set before us in the person of the Blessed Virgin Mary who said ‘yes’ to God and his call on her life and, giving birth to Jesus, points us to our Lord and Saviour.
Are we, likewise, going to say ‘yes’ to God and the bigger story of his love seen in Jesus Christ, child of Mary, Son of God. Because, amazingly, no matter our own personal pages and chapters in the story of life, when it comes to the huge story of God’s love, which has global proportions, we all can have our cake and eat it!
And as I finish and head off to bed soon (since the clocks go forward tonight!), I just have time to listen to a rendition of A Maiden Most Gentle and Tender; more directly suited, of course, to Christmas and Epiphany, but, then again, those festivals are also part of that bigger story aren’t they?
Rejoice and be glad at this Christmas [or Mothering Sunday] we pray,
Sing praise to the Saviour sing end-lessly.
Ave, Ave, Ave Maria.
Ave, Ave, Ave, Ave Maria.
Today’s Gospel reading for the Sunday Eucharist is John 4.5-42: The Story of the woman of Samaria. So many questions spring to mind. Was this Samaritan woman an outcast (as has often been interpreted from this passage)? Was she going through her own desert wilderness in life? Was her thirst just as much a spiritual longing as a physical need for water? Just how many social taboos did Jesus trample on when speaking to her – a woman; a Samaritan? And how did this make her feel? It does seem that she returned to her people, overflowing with news of the Messiah who had seen right through her and told her everything she had done. It seems something changed within her. There’s a freedom about her as she is offered the water of eternal life. She is free. She flies. Certainly, we read that many believed because of her testimony. Listen to Touch the Sky from the soundtrack of the Walt Disney film, Brave. I’ve often used it the middle of a Lent course. Written by Alex Mandel and Mark Andrews, and performed by Julie Fowlis, I find this Celtic inspired song begins to lead us out of the kind of wilderness that the Samaritan woman may have been experiencing ‘into the light’. The woman at the well had a life-changing story to tell. We, too, can be part of that amazing story of Christ’s love, which enables us all to ‘ride’, to ‘fly’, to ‘chase the wind’ and ‘touch the sky’.
Read John 3.1-17 (today’s Gospel reading for the Sunday Eucharist) and listen to the whispered conversation in the middle of the night between the Pharisee Nicodemus and Jesus; mysterious Rabbi who, rumour has it, comes from God.
Here, there is both earthy language and spiritual expression. Encountering these characters, we are reminded of our physicality; think of the start of Lent – we are but dust. Yet, a heavenly reality takes us beyond this worldly fact to show us that we are anything but dust. We are created to be in relationship with our Creator. We are loved by God. We are reborn.
Let the wind blow us to the height and depth of that love that we, though aware of our brokenness, might know through God’s Son, Jesus, and in our inner-most being, the living presence of God, his grace and his mercy, this Lententide. The darkness of the cross is before us during Lent. But even now we can see a chink of light beyond the shadow. The promise of rebirth and new life.