St Margaret’s Church, Binsey Eucharist written for Sunday 22nd March 2020 [Mothering Sunday]

Revd. Professor Martin Henig
Exodus 2: 1-10; Psalm 127:1-4; 2 Corinthians 1:3-7; John 19:25 -27.

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. [John 19:26-27].

+In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

  Today our readings are all about relationships; they are of course about relationships within our own families, indeed with our own mothers whether they be living or dead. But they are also about relationships with our friends, with our neighbours, with each other. In sum they are about our relationship with God, with Christ.

  Even in normal times, if times are ever normal, we need to be circumspect in our celebrations. This is, after all, the Fourth Sunday in Lent. And churches and communities that are concerned only with those with living mothers, with married couples or those in civil partnerships and cause the bereaved and the childless to feel like outsiders are neglecting Jesus Christ, childless though indeed with a mother, seeing him die an excruciating death. 

  Historically Mothering Sunday was as much about Mother Church as it was about anything else. This weekend, three weeks before Easter, servants were given a break to go back to their own mother churches. It was a time for homecoming and, even in Lent, for rejoicing. This should be a happy day, a day for casting away our anxieties.

This year feels different, as we face the Coronavirus epidemic. It is strange to reflect that only a few weeks ago, the country was in the grip of a political and social division over Brexit, followed by a divisive election. That all seems rather irrelevant now. All we demand of our politicians is wisdom and compassion. What really, really matters is how we care for each other.

This is illustrated in our first reading about the infant Moses in the bulrushes. First, there is the child’s mother trying to shield her baby from Pharaoh’s murderous diktat; but then there is Pharaoh’s own daughter who twigs at once that the baby in a Hebrew who not only saves his life but adopts him as her own son. In a gentle twist Moses’ mother is found by Pharaoh’s other daughter as wet-nurse. (I rather suspect that these two kind and independent young women had sussed out the situation). That demonstrates exactly what a love going beyond blood relationships mean. And of course, Jesus bequeaths his mother to the care of ‘the disciple he loves’ generally thought to be John.

  Leaving politics and the virus aside it has been an interesting few month for me. A number of friends of a younger generation, most of whom I have known from their childhoods, have had babies, and the real joy here has been to see those nurturing instincts apparent long before brought into play, as they were in the case of Pharaoh’s daughters and Jesus’ best friend, because that sort of love is not the prerogative of a single sex.

   Two aspects of a priest’s life both of which I had hoped to be able to perform in St Margaret’s church were a baptism and a marriage, both of which will surely take place in some shape or form, whoever performs the ceremonies. Both sacraments which will continue as long as the church remains, that is before Christ coming again in all his Glory, are relevant to today: in baptism we welcome an individual (generally now a baby) into the church, the worshipping community with all its mutual obligations. We do not expect the baptised to say or do much but nurturing includes the inculcation of love and generosity, in which parents play the primary role assisted we hope by godparents are appointed. Marriage itself is essentially a legal contract in which the priest is an honorary registrar, though he has the authority to give God’s blessing. However, the main responsibilities-the ministers of the marriage- are the couple who have pledged their troth. The priest’s real privilege is assisting in marriage preparation, meditating with a couple what such a loving relationship should mean, not just to each other (they should know that after all) but to the world, whether or not they physically have children or use their nurturing capacities in other ways.

   The Archbishops, following guidance, have suspended Public Worship for the time being though churches remain open for private devotion, as St Margaret’s always has. This Sunday would have been my last sermon at least for a time as over 70s have been asked to take special care…and today is in fact my 78th birthday.

  If I am spared, I hope to be able to lead worship again from time to time. Meanwhile what advice do I have when we are all going to be tested by the epidemic disease sweeping through our land? Remember the stories of our wonderful insular saints, Columba, Cuthbert, Eadfrith and Godric who sought God in lonely places. It is important always  to remember the small things, both the discipline of prayer, if you have access to an open space watching the world of nature, and as far as our human neighbours, perhaps shopping , or phoning or emailing especially people who feel isolated as in some respects we all are. Perhaps we have the chance to usher in a more loving, a gentler world in which we will exploit neither the environment, each other or the rest of  creation. Let us remember with St Paul in the Epistle reading set for Mothering Sunday:

Just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us,

So also, our consolation is abundant through Christ [2 Corinthians 1:5]

+In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.