Sunday 22 March 2020:
Eucharist for Mothering Sunday,
with the Licensing of the Revd Pete Atkinson as Minor Canon for Young People
Exodus 2: 1-10
John 19: 25b-27
Discerning the need; forging new relationships; addressing the future
The Gospel reading that the church sets for Mothering Sunday is about as far as it possibly could be from the greetings cards for Mother’s Day. For the Gospel reading records words spoken by a man who is dying in great agony. It records a scene that is fearful, devastating, and brutal. And although the preacher might look to the Old Testament reading for an alternative narrative, and might find there the charming story of Moses in the bulrushes, still the backdrop to that story is the story of the vicious persecution of the baby’s people, the Hebrews.
The strangeness of those stories (whether the words of the dying man or the persecution of the Hebrew people in Egypt), the strangeness of those readings sits oddly alongside the flowers and the chocolates of Mother’s Day - alongside the family lunches, the breakfast in bed, and everything else that we associate with a day which comes as a relief to the bleakness, the discipline of Lent.
This year there is a particular strangeness to our Mothering Sunday, to our 4th Sunday in Lent, because a mere handful of us are gathered here in a cathedral which is closed to public worship and closed to worshippers. Our choir is silent; our volunteers are absent; and the joyful celebration of the Holy Communion - which nurtures and sustains our brothers and sisters in Christ - is withdrawn from them, and denied to them.
So, this Mothering Sunday is a painful day, for all of us. Looking at those words that Jesus speaks to his mother and to the disciple whom he loves, the words do three things. Let me suggest they first discern a need - a mother without an elder son has no one to care for her, no one to look after her. The words forge new relationships between them. Jesus brings into relationship these two people, Mary, and the beloved disciple; they're drawn into a relationship of responsibility for one another: “…from that hour, the disciple took her into his own home”. And the words resolutely address the future. This is to be the pattern from now on: “…this is your mother… this is your son”. They don't address the past, or the instant present. They're looking at tomorrow. And if the words do those three things then I think we can properly say that in the midst of agony, Jesus speaks words of hope.
Now, every celebration of the Eucharist is a celebration of hope, because in it, we realise - we make real - God’s promise that Jesus will be with us, however desperate and desolate the circumstances. And in these rather desperate, desolate times, we celebrate the Eucharist in accordance with our Lord’s command. And we do something more. We are licensing Pete to a new ministry among us. And I suggest that that act, the act of licensing Pete on this of all Mothering Sundays is faithful to the pattern that Jesus sets out for us from the cross.
For in licensing Pete today we are first discerning a need, a need which actually could never be greater than at this present time: the need of the young people of the Cathedral Close, and our recognition as a cathedral of our current inability or inarticulacy in communicating with them and caring for them as we would like to. Secondly, our licensing of Pete will create new relationships as Pete gets among and alongside the staff, the governors, the parents and the pupils of our Cathedral School, the parents and young people in the broader cathedral community, in all our choirs, and among and alongside the young people - for whom the cathedral Close is a natural and safe place to gather, but with whom we have as yet to find a sustainable way of talking. Lastly, our licensing of Pete resolutely addresses the future: that need that has been acknowledged in our national church and in our diocesan family, that the church must grow in numbers, in depth and in influence.
So, we gather today in dark and uncertain times, faithful to our Lord’s command and realise the promise of Christ to be with his faithful people, those of us who are in the building at this moment but far more importantly, those of our community who are worshipping away from us. In dark and uncertain times we launch a new ministry, and believe that in so doing we are speaking words of faith of confidence and of hope. Amen