30 March 2014
We are halfway through Lent and today [30 March 2014] is the Fourth Sunday in Lent, known popularly as Mothering Sunday and also as Laetare Sunday. It is known as Laetare Sunday because of the incipit of the traditional Introit, “Laetare Jerusalem” (“O be joyful, Jerusalem,” from the Masoretic text of Isaiah 66: 10).
The readings in the Revised Common Lectionary are: I Samuel 16: 1-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5: 8-14; and John 9: 1-41.
In the Gospel reading this morning, Christ is in Jerusalem, where he meets a young man who has been blind since birth. The disciples ask Christ: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” He answers them: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
Many grieving and suffering mothers listening to this Gospel this morning on Mothering Sunday must wonder why their children are suffering and wonder how or whether their suffering and the suffering of their children fit into God’s plans for the fullness of creation.
Indeed, while we must agree the blindness of this young man could not possibly be due to his sins or the sins of his ancestors, how many of us blame other people for their plight, and how many of us still believe that those in poverty and deprivation simply need to “pull themselves up”?
In healing this young man, Christ puts into action what he has already proclaimed in the synagogue in Nazareth, immediately after his temptations in the wilderness, as being the heart of the Gospel:
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ (Luke 4: 18-19)
This morning, Christ moves beyond compassion for the young blind man in Jerusalem to actually healing him and restoring him to the place in society those around him would deny him. But he avoids falling into the trap others want to set for him in passing judgment on those who others want to see as being sinful and deserving of divine wrath.
Christ’s compassion, caring and non-judgmental stance are in stark contrast with some who would like to claim the ground for conservative evangelicalism today, but who ignore the example of Christ. Recently, in what looks like an interview with himself – the ultimate verbal equivalent of a “selfie” – Professor Don Carson of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School arrogantly argued: “Christians who by their failure to proclaim the Christ of the gospel of the kingdom while they treat AIDS victims in their suffering here and now show themselves not really to believe all that the Bible says about fleeing the wrath to come. In the end, it is a practical atheism and a failure in love.”
Practical Christianity is reduced to practical atheism in this sharp judgment without any reference to the example of Christ in the Gospel.
Meanwhile, it is worth asking: What would you miss if you were blind?
So often, we take for granted not just our health and well-being but our physical senses too – our sight, speech, hearing, sense of smell and touch.
I still recall with inner pleasure a late sunny Sunday afternoon on the Greek Cycladic island of Santorini in the late 1980s. I had arrived from Crete the previous day, and had spent some time visiting the villages, churches, monasteries and beaches on the island.
Late that afternoon, I was sitting on a terrace in Fira on the steep volcanic cliffs, trying to write a little and sipping a glass of white wine. Behind me, on another terrace above, someone was playing Mozart in the background. Below me, the horseshoe-shaped volcanic cliffs fell down to the blue Aegean sea, and out to the west the sun was about to set.
It was one of those moments in time that provided a glimpse of eternity. Late that night, I flew on to Athens. When I got back to Crete later in the week, I bought this poster which I have chosen as my work of Art for Lent this morning [30 March 2014].
Although I need no reminders of that afternoon, I catch a glimpse of it whenever I look at this poster, with its painting of Oia on the island of Santorini by a local artist, Manolis Sivridakis, and all the sounds, sights, tastes, smells and thoughts of that sunny afternoon. I also have a smaller copy of another of his paintings, ‘Daybreak Santorini.’
Manolis Sivridakis runs the Oia Gallery on the northern tip of the island and has a studio in Athens too.
Oia is a nest of narrow lanes and streets lined with characteristic white-washed houses of the Cycladic islands, and many of the white-washed churches have blue domes. Throughout the final days of Ottoman occupation, before Greek Independence, flying the Greek flag was prohibited, but the island was a riotous statement of defiance, with the blue-and-white of Greece sparkling everywhere in the sunshine.
When an earthquake hit Santorini in1956, parts of Oia were destroyed as they fell into the sea. Many of the buildings that remain are built into the volcanic rock on the slopes of the crater wall. The narrow streets above are filled with souvenir shops and artists’ galleries.
Greek National Day falls on 25 March, and five days later, to celebrate the day, the Greek Community of Ireland and the Greek Orthodox Community of Ireland have organised a gala dinner this evening [30 March 2014] which is also in aid of people in Kephalonia who have suffered in recent earthquakes.
Meanwhile, I am looking forward to a return visit to Crete later in the summer, and the opportunity to enjoy the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and voices of Greece … and the sunsets and daybreaks.
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.
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 may know the power of your presence
to bind together and to heal;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Post Communion Prayer:
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.
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 Jesus Christ our Lord.
Tomorrow: ‘Samuel Johnson’ (1976), a mosaic in Lichfield by John Myatt.