Colossians 3. 12 – 17
John 19. 25 – 27
We’ve reached the Fourth Sunday of Lent, and we’re sort of half-way through this season now. And today the Church gives us a little respite from what are, I’m sure, the punishing rigours of Lent, as we reach Refreshment Sunday.
Today is also called Laetare Sunday, the Latin for ‘rejoice!’ Even in the midst of Lent, we’re reminded that we have something to rejoice about: Easter is just around the corner.
And we do rejoice today. We rejoice in our own mothers, and the vocation of motherhood. We rejoice in the Virgin Mary, who nurtured our Saviour with the greatest love and care, and who is a sign of that same love and care that we enjoy as his brothers and sisters.
And we rejoice in our membership of the Church, traditionally thought of as a mother; the Church nurtures us in the faith, that we may grow into the full maturity of the Christian life.
The prayer I will offer after communion reminds us that the sacraments of the Church sustain us, just as an infant is sustained by their mother who feeds them.
In all the richness, then, of this Sunday’s celebration, our little Gospel reading might seem a touch out of place.
We’ve jumped ahead to Good Friday, and on this day when we’re encouraged to take a bit of a break from Lent, we’re brought face to face with what awaits us in a few weeks’ time. The darkness and devastation of the events of Holy Week.
So what’s going on? Why have we been given this desperately sad scene to reflect on today?
We rightly celebrate our family life today, and especially our mothers. But we remember, of course, that today can be a really difficult day for many.
For those who are grieving the loss of their mothers. For those who haven’t had the loving and happy experience of family life that many of us have enjoyed. For those who desire to be mothers themselves, but have been unable to.
We hold all of that together prayerfully with our celebrating today.
And in Mary, standing at the foot of the cross and gazing on her dying Son, we see the tension between joy and sadness in motherhood.
Now I’m not going to stand up here and tell all the mothers in the congregation what it’s like to be a mother! That would be ridiculous. But I am learning rather a lot about what it means to be a parent, at the moment.
And having grown up and left my parents and started a family of my own, I’m coming to realise that parenthood is really about preparing your child to leave you. Indeed, the more successful you are as a parent, the easier it will be for your children to move on and start lives of their own.
And I think perhaps for mothers, that feeling is even more pronounced. To hold a child within yourself, to give birth to them, and nurture them for so many years, only for them to leave and begin their own lives; it’s a sort of bereavement.
And we see this in Mary, most clearly, today. She received that astounding news from the angel Gabriel, felt the very Son of God grow within her; she gave birth to him, and nurtured him, sustained him as he grew into a boy, and then a man.
And now she gives him up, on the cross.
But as we know, Good Friday isn’t the end of the story. We know what comes just three days later. And even in this tragic scene, when all seems lost, we catch a glimpse of our Christian hope.
Because one of Jesus’ last acts before he dies, is to bring new life where there is death. To create a new kind of family. “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.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.”
We see today the formation of the first Christian community. They don’t know it yet: perhaps they think this is just a kindness from Jesus; a way to try to live with the pain of losing him.
But this new community isn’t a sad memorial to someone who’s no longer there. It’s the beginning of a new and wonderful life: the promise of the life of Easter.
And this is why we rejoice today, because thanks to the resurrection, we share in this new and wonderful way of living. In our baptism we become children of the perfect Father; we become brothers and sisters of the perfect brother. And we become brothers and sisters of each other.
Christ knew the pain of the cross; but he also knew the love of a human family. And on the cross, Christ drew the whole human family to himself. He overcame the hurt, and the pain, and the suffering, to bring new life to the world.
In that pain Christ reached out to his mother and his friend. And thanks to our membership of his family, we can be sure that Christ reaches out to us in our pain and our hurts too. If we bring them to him – if we bring them into the love and care of our new Christian family – we will find the wholeness and healing that he desires for each one of us.
Now, of course, we’re still humans. This new family isn’t going to be perfect. There’ll be disagreements, maybe even more pain and hurt. But what would our church look like – what would our world look like – if we really saw each other as brothers and sisters?
If we really clothe ourselves, like St Paul says, with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. If we forgive each other as the Lord has forgiven us. Above all, if we clothe ourselves with love; and we let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts.
That’s a family I want to be a part of. Amen.