Sermon Mothering Sunday 4th Sunday of Lent. 14 March 2021
Numbers 21:4-9. Ps 107:1-3, 17-22. Eph 2:1-10. John 3:14-21
One of the most precious things in life is the love between a mother and her new born child. There is something very special. There is no denying the bond created between mother and child in those early days. Parents continue to forge those bonds over the passing days and years. It takes a lot of love and energy, some encouragement and disciplining along the way too to ensure that children hopefully will become beautiful responsible adults.
Mothering Sunday marks the moment we celebrate this most precious gift. I include those fathers too that are raising children on their own. Mothering Sunday comes out of an old tradition of going home not just a person’s mother, but home to the Mother Church on the 4th Sunday of Lent. It is also why it is also known as Refreshment Sunday. It is the moment we take a break from our Lenten disciplines and relax, receiving Simnel Cake and a posey of flowers.
But it is also known by it’s other name. Laetare Sunday. The word Laetare in Latin means Rejoice! The colour for vestments is Rose in those churches that choose to use this colour and there is a sense of joy.
In times gone by when children went home from their labours to visit their families, it would have been a time of great joy and rejoicing. It was one of those times in the year when such a time was allowed. There was a break from work, a time to gather with the family and enjoy being at church together, and time to make and enjoy Simnel Cake.
I still love the old Story of Simon and Nell which is believed to appear on the 8 March in 1838 in the Wiltshire Independent. In prose it tells the tale of Simon and Nell and goes like this:
Determined a cake of such taste to provide
That [it] should be [of] town and country the pride.
But they could not agree on the best way to make it, –
It was Simon’s opinion to mould it and bake it;
While Nell, a true woman, protested t’would spoil it,
And resolved to put on the pot and boil it.
After much arguing, they eventually agree:
That first in the pot
The cake should be boiled, till soaked and hot;
Then Simon should afterwards from the pot take it,
And place it within a hot oven and bake it.
Thus ended the strife; and our grandfathers tell,
That the cake from that instant was called SIM-Nell.
It’s quite a story really, a bit of fun and nonsense, but as all traditions develop, good stories help to keep them alive.
Our gospel reading in John’s Gospel is within the context of Nicodemus speaking and asking questions of Jesus. That most famous of verses that gets quoted often falls within our Gospel reading. John 3:16, for God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life, must be placed in its proper context. Nicodemus wanted to know how a person can be born from above and Jesus in his reply refers to the Old Testament, about Moses lifting up a serpent on a stick in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must also be lifted up. Jesus is of course speaking of his death and resurrection. And so just as God chose Jesus to be born of Mary, the one who was loved and cherished by his earthly mother, so too Jesus is loved by God. But I want to stop here and remind us, that God does not just send Jesus to die. No, that seems like a cruel fate for anyone, let alone the Son of God. Jesus was born of a woman, lived as one of us, was baptised, and went about healing and curing the sick and the lame, preaching the good news of the Kingdom of God. God’s love was shown through Jesus in the giving of his ministry. The way he loved those he walked with, chastising them when they drifted from the truth, weeping over Lazarus at his death, and having compassion on the people, feeding them with fish and bread. Jesus gave the disciples an example of living a life devoted to God through prayer and helping others less fortunate than themselves. Reminding them that they would not be left alone once Jesus had gone to be with the Father.
God’s love is poured out through Jesus life and ministry and finally in the giving of his life for all people, that we ‘may not perish but have eternal life. And we are called into the light of God, called out of darkness, called to live lives that are characterised by the love and grace of God.
Yes God loves the world, and loves us so much that God made a way for us to be united with him by the offering of Jesus life in death, that gave way to resurrection life. This will be our joy at Easter. Jesus death is not the end, it is not the final answer. Jesus rises from the dead. The Apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthian church in chapter 15 says, ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory!’
This is the hope that we look forward to. The same Jesus who was tempted in the wilderness, who was tempted to make stones into bread, is the one who brings life eternal and victory over death.
When a child is born there is great rejoicing, so today, let us also rejoice in the hope that Christ gives us. The hope of glory.