14 March 2021

Reaching out to hold
the Body of Christ at
the foot of the Cross

Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, watched by the Virgin Mary, lay the Body of Christ in the tomb … Station XIV in the Stations of the Cross in Saint Mel’s Cathedral, Longford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 14 March 2021, the Fourth Sunday in Lent

Mothering Sunday (Laetare Sunday)

The Readings: Numbers 21: 4-9; Psalm 107: 1-3, 17-22; John 3: 14-21.

There is a link to the readings HERE.

‘Mother and Child’ by Anna Raynoch-Brzozowska, a sculpture in Auschwitz … the Fourth Sunday in Lent is Mothering Sunday (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

This the Fourth Sunday in Lent, known traditionally as Laetare Sunday because of a traditional refrain on this Sunday: Laetare Jerusalem, ‘O be joyful, Jerusalem’ (Isaiah 66: 10, Masoretic text).

Saint John’s Gospel is the only Gospel to tell the story of Nicodemus, and in this reading, we meet Nicodemus for the first time.

Nicodemus is a leader of the Jews, a member of the Sanhedrin, the official Jewish court made up of seventy priests, scribes and elders, presided over by the High Priest.

He comes to Christ by night and confesses a simple faith in him as a teacher sent by God. But Saint John the Baptist has already described Christ as a man sent by God (John 1: 6). So that is not enough – that is simply an understanding of Christ without the crucifixion and the Resurrection.

At this point, Nicodemus has seen but he does not believe; he has insight but he does not have faith.

Christ responds by speaking of faith rather than understanding, of believing instead of seeing. The Kingdom of God is not entered because of moral achievements or intellectual abilities, but by being transformed in and by God.

But it is difficult for Nicodemus to understand what Christ is saying. He really fails to grasp what Christ is saying and its implications.

Does he understand when Christ tells him: ‘For God so loved the world (the cosmos, κόσμος) that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life’ (verse 16)?

Does Nicodemus understand?

What happened to Nicodemus?

This is our first meeting with Nicodemus in this Gospel. We meet him again a second time when he states the law concerning the arrest of Christ during the Feast of Tabernacles (John 7: 45-51).

In our third meeting, after the Crucifixion, Nicodemus helps Joseph of Arimathea to take the body of Christ down from the cross before dark, and to prepare the body for burial (John 19: 39-42).

So, Nicodemus is on a pilgrimage or journey of gradual awareness that is like the journey of faith of many people: first, he meets Christ in the darkness, and sees him as an equal, a great teacher; then, in the light of day, he speaks up for Christ among his equals; finally, before darkness falls, Nicodemus comes to truly possess the Body of Christ, to hold the Body of Christ in his hands.

Nicodemus comes to Christ in the darkness, and is brought into the light. He moves from a comfortable, cosy image of Christ as a good teacher, to holding the Body of Christ in his own hands, from being comfortable to being challenged, from new birth to new death, from leadership to discipleship.

In this morning’s reading, Christ reminds Nicodemus that he has come into the world not to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved. He puts this into practice in the way he heals the sick, feeds the hungry, brings sight to the blind, comforts those who mourn, putting into action what he has proclaims in the synagogue in Nazareth immediately after his temptations in the wilderness, as being the heart of the Gospel.

In the Church today, on Mothering Sunday, mothers in need must be part of those priorities in the mission of Christ.

I try to imagine, on Mothering Sunday, how Christ had good experiences of mothering as he was growing up. The Christ Child, when he was born, was cradled in the lap of a loving mother who at the time could never know that when he died and was taken down from the cross she would cradle him once again in her lap before Nicodemus brought him to his burial.

In one of the alternative Gospel readings provided for Mothering Sunday this morning (John 19: 25-27), in the midst of his dying, pain-filled moments before his death, Christ is heard thinking of the needs of the two people who love him most during his life: his mother and his best friend.

As the soldiers are gambling over Christ’s clothes, three women are standing at the foot of his cross: his mother Mary, Mary the wife of Cleopas, and Mary Magdalene, with his mother standing with the Beloved Disciple.

Jesus turns to his mother and he says to her: ‘Woman, here is your son.’

He then turns to the Beloved Disciple and says: ‘Here is your mother.’

It is not a command, it is not a directive, it is not an instruction. It is a giving in love, just as his own death on the cross is self-giving. And in giving there is love and there is life.

And from that hour, we are told, the disciple took her into his own home.

Christ teaches us to love, even when he is dying, even when we are dying. That is what relationships are about, and that is what the Cross is all about, that is what we ought to learn during the Lenten pilgrimage to the Cross.

The cross broadens the concept of family – the family of God. Christ changes the basis of relationships. No longer are relationships to be formed on the basis of natural descent, on shared ethic identity, on agreeing that others are ‘like us.’

Our shared place beneath the cross is the only foundational space for relationships from now on.

Mary gained another son. And the Beloved Disciple gained a new mother.

Beneath the cross of Christ, Christian fellowship is born not just for Mary and John, but also for you and me, and for everyone else who believes, for all who believe.

Beneath the cross of Christ, we become a new family.

Beneath the cross of Christ, we become brothers and sisters in Christ.

Beneath the cross of Christ, we realise that we are now part of the family of God.

On the cross, Christ entrusts us as his children to one another, to love one another.

Love one another. And we are empowered and challenged to do this at the Eucharist every time when we stretch our hands out like Nicodemus in faith to receive the Body of Christ.

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Christ is laid in the tomb by Nicodemus, from the Stations of the Cross in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 3: 14-21 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said to Nicodemus:]

14 ‘Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

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.

17 ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.’

‘Woman, here is your son … Here is your mother’ (John 19: 26, 27) … a Pieta image in the Chapel in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical colour: Violet (Lent) or Pink (Laetare Sunday).

The canticle Gloria is omitted in Lent.

Penitential Kyries:

In the wilderness we find your grace:
you love us with an everlasting love.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

There is none but you to uphold our cause;
our sin cries out and our guilt is great.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Heal us, O Lord, and we shall be healed;
Restore us and we shall know your joy.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect of the Day (Lent IV):

Lord God
whose blessed Son our Saviour
gave his back to the smiters
and did not hide his face from shame:
Give us grace to endure the sufferings of this present time
with sure confidence in the glory that shall be revealed;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Lenten Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God,
you hate nothing that you have made
and forgive the sins of all those who are penitent:
Create and make in us new and contrite hearts
that we, worthily lamenting our sins
and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may receive from you, the God of all mercy,
perfect remission and forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Collect of the Day (Mothering Sunday):

God of compassion,
whose Son Jesus Christ, the child of Mary,
shared the life of a home in Nazareth,
and on the cross drew the whole human family to himself:
Strengthen us in our daily living
that in joy and in sorrow
we know the power of your presence
to bind together and to heal;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Introduction to the Peace:

Being justified by faith,
we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 5: 1, 2)

Preface (Mothering Sunday):

You chose the Blessed Virgin Mary
to be the mother of your Son
and so exalted the humble and meek;
your angel hailed her as most highly favoured,
and with all generations we call her blessed:

Post Communion Prayer (Lent IV):

through your goodness
we are refreshed through your Son
in word and sacrament.
May our faith be so strengthened and guarded
that we may witness to your eternal love
by our words and in our lives.
Grant this for Jesus’ sake, our Lord.

Post Communion Prayer (Mothering Sunday):

Loving God,
as a mother feeds her children at the breast,
you feed us in this sacrament with spiritual food and drink.
Help us who have tasted your goodness
to grow in grace within the household of faith;
through Christ our Lord.

Blessing (Mothering Sunday):

Christ the Son of God, born of Mary,
fill you with his grace
to trust his promises and obey his will:


352, Give thanks with a grateful heart (CD 21)
227, Man of sorrows! What a name (CD 14)

‘Woman, here is your son … Here is your mother’ (John 19: 26, 27) … the Crucifixion on the rood screen in Saint Ia’s Church in Saint Ives, Cornwall (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

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