22 March 2020

‘Woman, here is your son …
Here is your mother’ – new
relationships at the Cross

‘Mother and Child’ by Anna Raynoch-Brzozowska … a sculpture in Auschwitz (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 22 March 2020

The Fourth Sunday in Lent (Lent IV), Mothering Sunday (Laetare Sunday)

9.30: Castletown, Morning Prayer

11.30: Rathkeale, The Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2)

Readings: Exodus 2: 1-10; Psalm 127: 1-4; Colossians 3: 12-17; John 19: 25-27.

There is a link to the readings HERE

‘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, 2019)

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

The Fourth Sunday in Lent is also known as Laetare Sunday because of a traditional Introit or prayer sung on this Sunday, Laetare Jerusalem, ‘O be joyful, Jerusalem’ (Isaiah 66: 10).

For many people, this is going to be a difficult Sunday to rejoice on. This is Mothering Sunday, but because of the Covid-19 pandemic many mothers and children are not going to see each other, many grandmothers and grandchildren are going to miss each other.

Mothering Sunday is a Sunday when we probably hear little about the main option for the Gospel reading (John 9: 1-41), the story of the man who is born blind but who is healed, at the expense of a lot of repeat sermons on the benefits of motherhood or the stellar qualities of ‘Mother Church’ or of cathedrals as the ‘mother churches’ of dioceses.

But I wonder and worry at times how many women feel isolated and marginalised by some of those sermons on Mothering Sunday – women who have had miscarriages or seen their children suffer and die; women who would love to but have never given birth to children; people who have grown up in families where the mother figure was absent or ill, died early, or was abusive or violent?

Many grieving and suffering mothers hearing this Gospel reading on Mothering Sunday may wonder why their children are suffering and how or where their sufferings and the sufferings of their children fit into God’s plans for the fullness of creation.

The blindness of this young man could not possibly be due to his sins or the sins of his ancestors. But 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’?

The two Gospel readings offered as choices for Mothering Sunday are not easy reading either. Motherhood is difficult, and brings pain and grief for mothers and children. But motherhood also brings pain and grief to men and women who whose desire to be parents is never fulfilled. These two choices offer a view of motherhood that is challenging and asks us to question what it is to be a parent, to parent and to be parented.

The first option (Luke 2: 33-35), from Saint Luke’s Gospel, is part of a longer reading normally linked with the Feast of the Presentation or Candlemas [2 February]. Nevertheless, the prophetic words of Simeon, which speak of the falling and rising of many and the sword that will pierce Mary’s heart, are appropriate in Lent too, leading us on to the Passion and Easter.

In the second optional Gospel reading (John 19: 25-27), we hear the tender words, ‘Woman, here is your son,’ as the dying Christ on the Cross entrusts his weeping mother Mary to the care of the Beloved Disciple. But Christ is not creating a one-way relationship. He immediately follows this by creating a new relationship for the Beloved Disciple: ‘Here is your mother.’

He entrusts her to him – and him to her. Relationships always have at least two dimensions. But the best of relationships are three dimensional – one to another, and each other to God.

There are some relationships we cannot create, there are others we cannot control, and others still that we have no choice about.

We cannot create our family. Our families are already given, even before we are born or adopted.

And those relationships survive though all adversities. They are fixed. They are given. Even though my father and mother are dead, they remain my parents. Even though a couple may divorce, each one in the old relationship remains a sister-in-law or a daughter-in-law, a brother-in-law or a son-in-law – albeit qualified by the word ‘former.’ In time, they may find they have new relationships: when their children have children, they share grandchildren they never expected. They may want to forget their past relationship, but it remains on the family tree for some future genealogist to tell everyone about.

I like to imagine that one of the untold stories in the aftermath of the Wedding at Cana is the new network or web of family relationships that have been created. After the wedding feast, the first of the Seven Signs in Saint John’s Gospel, Christ ‘went down to Capernaum with his mother, his brothers, and his disciples; and they remained there for a few days’ (John 2: 12).

On the way, or back in Capernaum, one finds he is now a brother-in-law, another that she is a sister-in-law, some, perhaps, realise they have a new aunt or uncle, or perhaps a new niece or nephew by marriage.

We cannot create family, yet family often creates us, shapes us, gives us identity and allows others to decide where we fit socially.

There are relationships we cannot control.

Most of us cannot control who we work with. That is the choice of our employers, and even for employers there is legislation to make sure they are not discriminating. Clergy cannot, and should not try to, control who are their parishioners.

If we try to control who is and who is not a member of the Church, depending on the relationships we like to have and the relationships we do not like to have, we will find we have a Church that has an ever-decreasing number of members, so that eventually we become a dwindling sect, wanting to make God in our own image and likeness, rather than accepting that we are all made in God’s image and likeness. And that eventually becomes a sect of one, where there is no place for the One who matters.

There are relationships we have no choice about. I cannot choose my friends and I cannot choose my neighbours.

Have you ever noticed that when a house is on the market, both the vendors and the estate agents tell you the neighbours are wonderful? It is only after you move in that you are likely to find out if you have, as the recent ITV television documentary series describes them, ‘the neighbours from hell.’

I cannot choose my friends. No matter how much I want to be friends with someone, if they do not want to be my friend, that’s it. I cannot force friendship. When I have a friendship, I can work on it, nurture it, help it to grow and blossom. But I cannot force a friendship. If you don’t want to be my friend, that is your choice, and if you do, and I don’t nurture that friendship, then you are going to change your mind.

Christ knows all about relationships, and he shows that on the Cross.

Relationships define us as human. Without relating to others, how can I possibly know what it is to be human? From the very beginning, God, who creates us in God’s own image and likeness, knows that it is not good for us to be alone. And in the Trinity, we find that God is relationship.

Relationship is at the heart of the cross. And there, on the cross, even as he is hanging in agony, the dying Jesus is compassionately thinking of others and of relationships.

His mother Mary is the only person throughout the Gospel narratives who has been with Christ from the beginning to the end, from his birth to his death. She has been with Christ throughout his whole life.

Saint John, the Beloved Disciple, is the disciple whom Jesus loved. We are blessed if we have a very best friend, a person to whom I am closer than any other. John is such a best friend for Jesus throughout the Gospel narrative. In the Fourth Gospel, we hear that John was ‘the beloved.’ John was the person to whom Christ was the closest. John was the best friend of Jesus.

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 his clothes and casting lots to divide them among themselves, Jesus sees three women – his mother Mary, Mary the wife of Cleopas, and Mary Magdalene, standing near the cross, and his mother is standing with the Beloved Disciple.

He 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.

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.

The cross broadens the concept of family – the family of God. Jesus 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.

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

‘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)

John 19: 25-27 (NRSVA):

25 Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ 27 Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

‘Standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene (John 19: 5) … ‘Crucifixion with figures’ (1952-1958) by Graham Sutherland (1903-1980), chalk, ink and wash, in a recent exhibition in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Colour: Violet (Lent, Year A).

The canticle Gloria may be omitted in Lent.

Traditionally in Anglicanism, the doxology or Gloria at the end of Canticles and Psalms is also omitted during 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 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 may know the power of your presence
to bind together and to heal;
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 Word:

God of mercies,
your only Son, while hanging on the cross,
appointed Mary, his mother,
to be his beloved disciple's mother.
May we follow her good example and always care for others
for the sake of Jesus Christ our Saviour
through whose name we pray.

Introduction to the Peace:

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

Alternative words suitable for use at the Peace:

Dr Samuel Johnson’s ‘Last Letter to his Aged Mother,’ written 250 years ago on 20 January 1769, reads:

Dear Honoured Mother:

Neither your condition nor your character make it fit for me to say much. You have been the best mother, and I believe the best woman, in the world. I thank you for your indulgence to me, and beg forgiveness of all that I have done ill, and all that I have omitted to do well. God grant you his Holy Spirit, and receive you to everlasting happiness, for Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen. Lord Jesus receive your spirit. Amen.


Through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who was in every way tempted as we are yet did not sin;
by whose grace we are able to overcome all our temptations:

The 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.

The 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 Jesus Christ our Lord.


Christ give you grace to grow in holiness,
to deny yourselves,
and to take up your cross and follow him:

‘Woman, here is your son’ … ‘Here is your mother’ (John 19: 26, 27) … a stained glass window in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)


704, Mary sang a song, a song of love (CD 40)
541, God of Eve and God of Mary (CD 31)
226, It is a thing most wonderful (CD 14)

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.

This sermon was prepared for Mothering Sunday (Lent IV), 22 March 2020, but because of the Covid-19 or Corona Virus pandemic all services have been suspended in the Diocese of Limerick and Killaloe.

No comments: