Sermon Transcript 22nd March 2020 - Brother Marc

Sermon: Bradley, St. Thomas’s Mothering Sunday (Lent 4) 2020

Col. 3. 12-17; Jn. 19: 25b-27.

‘Behold your Mother.’

“Woman, here is your son; son, here is your mother.”

May I speak and may you hear God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. AMEN

When I said to one or two of you that I would be preaching for Mothering Sunday as my final sermon on this placement, I detected a note of cautiousness and almost even apology. ‘I don’t think,’ said people, ‘that we’ve ever really done anything for Mothering Sunday at St. Thomas’s before; we certainly don’t give out potted primulas or posies like other churches do. At first, I have to say, I was a bit disconcerted: what am I going to say if I want to speak about mothers, being a mum or mothering, then? It seems to be the most obvious theme for a preacher for this particular Sunday, after all. Should I think again, maybe? Well, no; so it is the theme of today – and so I will preach. The fact that you here at St. Thomas’s are ‘not like other churches’, I suspect, is the key to why it is all the more important to offer a word on this theme today and this time of crisis.

  As soon as I knew I needed to complete a parish placement as part of my theology studies, I felt it needed to be somewhere unlike or different from what I’m currently used to. We have pretty partisan lines in the Church of England; terms like ‘middle of the road,’ ‘high church’, ‘low church’ etc. can be used fairly liberally, sometimes helpfully, other times not so much as we seek to describe our sensibilities about and impressions of what we perceive of churches: those of which we’re a part and those to which we may seek to belong.

   There is nothing wrong with this in itself; language gives us a toolkit to help give expression to ideas and feelings, not least in the realm of the spiritual life, where things can quickly become very abstract and mysterious. But we also need to be aware that any words or terms we use to voice and develop our thoughts will be always be limited in their range of meaning. The Christian way must always go beyond and show itself more extensive than words.

   As Christians, we maintain that God’s nature and name is love. Love is the Word and letter of the law. Love is to be the mandate we must fulfil; the command we must do as we learn to be God’s people again and again.  

Learning to be the people God calls us to be is what Lent is all about – letting things go, giving things up, taking things on. All of this can help us to reassess and tune in, to focus more on the one who ever calls us to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him to the fullness of life as the people we’re called to be. Perhaps this week more than ever, the mandate to pick up that cross is resounding more clearly than ever through our collective disorientation and numbness at the effects of the coronavirus.

  I knew quite plainly, that in coming to an evangelical church, it would pretty much be a given that I’d encounter people who knew their bible better than me and preached it. Excellent. We are called throughout the church to evangelise and to preach the crucified God. So excellent has your ministry of the Word been, in fact, that I wrote an essay on it. In that essay, I acknowledged a preconceived feeling that I had had before coming here of missing the regularity of the Eucharist; this is central to the worshipping life of my community and college; it is a major part of what I concede is my priestly identity. The Holy Communion is central to my theology. Would I be able negotiate a church again a bit similar to the one in which I grew up, where that sacrament – that sign of God’s grace - is still key in relating with God, but less central in terms of how the church understands itself in relationship to him?

My conclusion? I’ve loved this church and it’s been a good and right placement. Furthermore, I have in actual fact, I have celebrated the Eucharist in this church week after week when I’ve come; I’ve missed out on nothing and received all things. All is very positive, you should hear. I have been helped; I have been adopted; I have known the Church’s mothering – the Father’s mothering – through your church and at his hands which are also your hands. For Christ, remember, has no body on earth now, but yours.

  This, brothers and sisters, is supremely Eucharistic theology. It is understanding God’s identity, father, son and spirit as being rooted at the heart of our own selves. ‘This is my body,’ says Jesus at the last supper, and every time you take and eat it you receive yourself broken and restored back into your own hands in a perpetual memorial of love.

 No matter what coronavirus fears or insecurities we may harbour about the world and our uncertain times, we can know ourselves to be broken and renewed in our very own bodies by the givenness of God whose eternal communion is with us in the broken Jesus of the cross: Christ crucified for our salvation. And this not only in the stuff of bread and wine, but in our fellowship and followership as disciples with one another. It is as Jesus’ brother and sister and mother that we find our identity and are made one in the family of the Church: through the Christ who gives his friend as an adopted son to his grieving mother, and returns his mother to her parental vocation by gifting her to John in his farewell act of love.   

Mothering Sunday seems especially poignant this year as we pray and give thanks for the gift of that vocation and acknowledge the pain and difficulty that it equally brings: this is not necessarily an easy day to live for us, notwithstanding the current situation. And we know that Mary too withstood great pain from her obedient acceptance to be the mother of God. Also Joseph, whom the Church remembered last Thursday. We should acknowledge their lives honourably and with thanksgiving, for their examples demonstrate how we too must love God, and by so loving, reach out our arms - our broken bodies – to a world thirsty for love; a world desperate to have mothering, a family and the grace of love.

I am really sorry not to be able to give this sermon in person this morning, but that doesn’t mean that I am not praying with you spiritually. We are in communion in spirit and in truth. Thank you all for being church to me and for revealing more and more in yourselves as the Church in this place; the light of the divine nature. Whatever joy or pain, fear or gladness become you at this present time, be still and know that the Word who is on your lips and in your heart remains very near. His nature and his name is love; whom water cannot quench neither the floods drown. Abide in that love by faith with thanksgiving as He, Father, Spirit and Son abides in you. As he is your father and mother, be the Church of the good news, whose vocation is to be brother sister and mother to the lost and lacking in our haywire world, that they with us might be saved, risen and restored to the perfect light and everlasting life of love.

God, be with you, and grant that I have spoken in his name: Father, son and Holy Spirit.