- The Revd Camellia Flanagan
Lent 4 Mothering Sunday. Joshua 5:2-12 Psalm 32, 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, Luke 15:11-32
+ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit Amen.
When we look at the symbols used in the service today we notice the visible symbol the Cross of Christ, the symbol of our faith, which went before us as the sanctuary team took their places and a Simnel cake. In the readings the symbol of Circumcision, the ancient covenant of God’s promises that he will be our God, if we remain his people; the pattern of the penitential psalm and the parables illustrating God’s feelings towards us all help to give us the overarching joy of knowing forgiveness and freedom; and of the opportunity to be sent out as an agent of God’s reconciling love.
The Fourth Sunday in Lent marks the middle of the Lenten discipline and has traditionally been marked with special activities. Its origin can be traced to the 6 century BC to the Greek mother figure God, Rhea, then later in the 3rdCentury BC to the Roman Goddess Cybele. This joyful Roman festival marking the end of winter in the northern hemisphere was known as Hilaria and was adopted by Christians. To make the festival more Christian it was deemed to be an appropriate time to replace the mother goddess and honour Mary Mother of our Lord and the mother Church. Last week we honoured the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary and this week we think of the Mother Church and with it the tender care and nurture of our ever-loving God. Since then the festival has extended to include the mothering or nurture of the community of faith and new Christians and later to honour time out for servants living away from home to return to their home town, visit their Mother Church, the place of their Baptism, or local Cathedral. This included visiting their Mothers and family members for a family celebration.
The Simnel cake is a light spicy fruit cake with two layers of marzipan one baked in the middle of the cake and the other on top, decorated with 11 marzipan balls, or eggs. These represent the 11 apostles, after Judas left them and before Matthias had been chosen to join them. The cakes were sometimes made as a gift for Mother or were made to be eaten at church for refreshment for the many people who travelled long distances to be there. The tradition of gifts for Mother was later commercialised in America and elsewhere as a secular Mothers’ Day Celebrated in May.
The old Testament reading reminds us of God’s promises to his chosen people, the children of Israel in the symbol of circumcision. When God made the ancient covenant with Abraham, he required that each male be circumcised as a sign of cutting off the old life and beginning a new life with God. (Genesis 17:13). The Israelites wandered in the desert after they fled from Egypt and most of the people who had been circumcised before they came out of Egypt, had died. Joshua then set about renewing the covenant with all the people born since Egypt before they settled in the land of Canaan. God had provided for them in the desert and was now providing food in their new land. The new generation were preparing to be obedient to God, not to be like their elders, rebellious and complaining.
These days one of the first steps to sorting out our lives is to “De-clutter” and one of the first steps in being obedient to God, is to set our spiritual house in order. This is our heart and mind which is the temple of the Holy Spirit. We need to look back a little at what we have done and clearly analyse it. Where we have gone off the rails and not listened to the Spirit’s promptings we need to repent because repentance which gains God’s forgiveness, gets rid of the clutter and gives us a new clean page to work on.
Over the centuries, many believers, overcome by an awareness of their own sins have found in the words of the penitential or confessional psalms a ray of hope. The psalmists shared with God, the depth of their sorrow and repentance, as well as the height of joy at being forgiven. They rejoiced in the knowledge that God would respond to confession and repentance with complete forgiveness. We, who live on the other side of the cross of Christ, can rejoice even more because we have been given more understanding through the life of Christ who has shown us how to live. If we study the penitential psalms we find there is a pattern for our response to God:
We recognise our sinfulness and tendency to do wrong.
We realise that this is rebellion against God.
We admit to God what we have done.
We trust God’s willingness to forgive
We accept God’s forgiveness.
There are many parables illustrating how God feels about rebellion and how he rejoices when we make up our minds to seek forgiveness and to follow him. In Luke’s gospel we have the parable of the Lost Sheep, the parable of the Lost Coin and the story of the lost Son. The prodigal son’s story is a perfect example of God’s response to our repentance. When we accept God’s forgiveness and decide to follow him we are brand new people on the inside and we discover a new and lasting joy. The Holy Spirit gives us new life, and we are not the same anymore. We are not reformed, rehabilitated, or re-educated-we are re-created. We are new creations living in vital union with Christ (Colossians 2:6,7) We are not merely turning over a new leaf we are beginning a new life under a new Master. God brings us back to himself, he reconciles us, by blotting out our sins (Ephesians 2:13-18)and makes us righteous.
If we take Paul’s letter to the Corinthians seriously, we are told that we are Christ’s ambassadors and encouragers for others. As Christ’s ambassadors we are sent with his message of reconciliation to the world. An ambassador of reconciliation has an important responsibility. We dare not take this lightly. When we consider the story of the lost son, the father’s response is contrasted with the older brother’s response. The father forgave because he was filled with love. The son refused to forgive because he was bitter about the injustice of it all as he saw it. His resentment rendered him just as lost to the father’s love as his younger brother had been.
Because we have been reconciled to God, we have the privilege of encouraging others to be reconciled. Because we have been given the message of reconciliation, can we be reconciling agents of Christ’s love to all we meet, to our families and to our friends?
Can we ponder on this during this mid-week of Lent, look for the symbols of God’s reconciling love in our lives and the lives of others and ask ourselves? “How well are we fulfilling our commission as Christ’s ambassador? And, is our life a symbol of God’s reconciling love?” Amen
The Reverend Camellia Flanagan tssf