(You can hear this sermon in its context on Facebook Here: https://fb.watch/4dJVOFVuzp/ )
Exodus 2:1-10, John 19:25-27
Lord, open your Word to our hearts and transform them, and our hearts to your Word to receive you. AMEN.
Mothering Sunday 2020 was the first Sunday that our Churches were closed for worship – so today is, in effect, the first anniversary of our on-line worship.
I remember on the Friday before going into St Mary’s in Fordingbridge to check that I could broadcast live to Facebook – something I’d never done before. And posting a photo on Facebook of the set-up on the Sunday morning – my mobile phone perched precariously on top of a large pile of hymn books and cardboard boxes.
Looking back at my notes for that Service, I remembered that we were able to announce two significant and rather bold decisions by that first Sunday – that we’d be on-line every day at 10.00, and we’d broadcast via Facebook, so that we were open to the world.
And we’ve managed to fulfil that promise – we’ve been on-line at 10.00 every day since then – approximately 365 videos, plus all the other Services, such as early Communions, Evensongs, and Feast Days of various sorts.
And that’s alongside all the material which has gone out on the Youth, Children’s and Families Facebook page – if you’ve not explored those yet, do have a look – assemblies, Bedtime Bible Stories, Open the Book and Messy Church.
And all of these have been led by our wonderful Staff Team, and then by an increasing number of wonderful people from our congregations, who’ve learnt how to record, how to transfer videos to us, in some cases learnt how to upload themselves, who’ve been prepared to be interviewed for the Saturday Conversations, and who’ve given so much of their time and creativity to this project. And then, behind the scenes there has been the team of editors – rather too small a team at the moment – we’re looking for more volunteers – training provided – the team of editors – Richard Farr, Jo Heath, Laura Cowdery and others have uploaded round about 750 videos in the past year.
So, as we reach this first anniversary, I want to thank all of them for all of the fantastic work they’ve done during this really difficult time. It’s been wonderful, and, quite often enjoyable – sometimes, absolutely maddening, when a video doesn’t work properly – but a great learning journey, and I’ve really felt that we’ve been in it altogether.
And thanks, also, to all of those who have joined in on Facebook, YouTube, Zoom, via the website, and have sent such lovely (and sometimes, just helpful) comments. Again, we’ve all been in it together.
Our Church buildings may have been closed for Worship, but the Church has certainly not been closed – in fact, we’ve been more open than ever!
And now, we’re looking to the future. We’ll continue on-line – that’s a permanent feature of who we are. We’ll review the appropriate level of our on-line presence in a month or so, but we are now a Hybrid Church – on-line and in Church.
The PCCs are actively considering when our Worship in Church will begin again. Currently, the proposal is to resume our Services on April 18th, once we enter the Government’s Step 2 on the 12th, but we’ll be reviewing that in the light of infection rates locally, and other factors. We can’t wait to get back into Church, and to begin to pick up the threads of a more normal Church Life. Keep an eye on Partners for more news as soon as a decision is made.
We began this Mothering Sunday Service with a lovely piece of music, sung by my Keble Choir, written by the Welsh composer, William Mathias, who died in 1992, and using the words of the late fourteenth-century hermitess, Julian of Norwich – she’s named after the Church of St Julian in Norwich, where she was immured, walled in, for many years.
She wrote in her book called ‘Revelations of Divine Love’, only rediscovered in the last century:
As truly as God is our Father, so just as truly is he our Mother. In our Father, God Almighty, we have our being; In our merciful Mother we are remade and restored. Our fragmented lives are knit together.
And by giving and yielding ourselves, through grace,
to the Holy Spirit we are made whole. It is I, the strength and goodness of Fatherhood. It is I, the wisdom of Motherhood. It is I, the light and grace of holy love. It is I, the Trinity.
And she ends with perhaps her most famous words:
All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.
You’ll have the opportunity to hear the piece again at the end of the Service – I’ll just warn you that it lasts about 6 minutes, so don’t feel obliged to stay for all of it if you’re desperate for your coffee by then!
‘As truly as God is our Father, so just as truly is he our Mother’. That seems like a very modern insight, but she is, in the 1380s, reflecting on the Fatherhood and Motherhood of God.
And so, our Mothering Sunday reflections should always begin with God. God, our Mother and Father. As we shall sing in our final hymn this morning, again, using words based on Mother Julian, ‘Mothering God… Mothering Christ… Mothering Spirit…’. God creates us, loves us, nurtures us, keeps us and redeems us – he Mothers us as well as Fathers us. Mothering Sunday begins with God.
We then reflect, as in our Gospel Reading a few moments ago, on Mary, the Mother of Jesus. A week on Wednesday we shall keep the Feast of the Annunciation, when Mary accepted God’s will that she should be the mother of his only son, Jesus. We’ve recently heard the Christmas story, and Mary’s part in all the complications of that, and then the Presentation in the Temple, when Mary was promised that a sword would pierce her own heart. We know the stories of Mary at Cana of Galilee, when she provoked Jesus into his first miracle. We see how the family were worried about him, really about his mental state, provoking his statement, sounding harsher than it was meant, I think, ‘Who is my Mother, my Father, my brothers and sisters? All those who do the will of God’.
And today, in our Gospel, she is at the foot of the Cross, receiving the Beloved Disciple, usually thought of as being St John, as her son, and his receiving her to be his mother. After the Gospels, we hear of Mary once more, as part of the Early Church, and then she disappears into history and the life of the Church.
Mary reminds us of the joys and sorrows, the love and the pain, of motherhood.
And we also reflect on the Mother Church, the way in which the Church should love us and nurture us for our daily living. We might want to give thanks for those people and those Churches who have nurtured us in our faith, who have been with us on the journey, who’ve helped us to become the people we are today.
And we might also want to pray for our Avon Valley Churches here, not just the buildings, but the people who make the buildings the Church – pray for us all as we move from on-line to in Church, for those making decisions about our physical safety and well-being, as well as our spiritual needs.
And, of course, Mothering Sunday is the day we remember and celebrate our own mothers. Mothering Sunday is for everyone who has a mother!
We give thanks for being brought into the world, for the nurture and guidance of our mothers, for all that they did in creating all that was and is good about our family life.
It’s interesting that the Gospel Reading we’re given for Mothering Sunday is not only about Jesus and his mother, but also about the new family Jesus created – Mary and John.
And so we remember that families come in all sorts of shapes and sizes – adopted parenting, same-sex couples parenting, fostering, grandparents acting as parents, and all the informal ways in which mothering goes on, and has always gone on, outside the traditional idea of family as mother, father and two children.
We give thanks for our own mothers, but also give thanks for all the ways in which motherly love is shown.
And we may need to offer to God the painful aspects of mothering – perhaps our own mothers were not naturally the parenting sort; perhaps we have regrets about the way we cared for our own children; perhaps we would have loved to be a mother, and it hasn’t happened.
Wherever you are on this spectrum, give thanks to God for his mothering of us; remember Mary, and her example of the joys and sorrows of mothering; give thanks for the Churches and faithful people who have nurtured you, and offer any painful memories to God; remember your own families, giving thanks for all that is good, offering to God all that is painful, or needs his healing; and, most of all, remember that God is our Mother, as well as our Father, and that God’s love for each one of us is the basis for all of our human love. ‘God is love, and those who live in love, live in God, and he in them’ [I Jn 4:16].
And, finally, remember the wonderful words of Mother Julian of Norwich, which we’ll hear in a very simple round I wrote a few years ago. All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.