Mothering Sunday 2020
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God.
When I was a curate in Cambridge around 1996, I was involved in an organisation called Christians on the Internet. Our mission, for want of a better word, was to encourage church folk that the internet was not the personal invention of Satan, but something to be embraced as the future not only of the spiritual life of our nation, but of pretty much all life on earth. We were not wrong. I also remember writing an article about it which most Christian publications rejected as being too niche. However, one of the outcomes of getting involved in this aspect of fledgling Christian ministry back then was that I came to the attention of Terry Waite, recently released from his incarceration in Beirut. We became good friends, and although I haven’t seen him in a while, it was a privilege to know him in those early days after his release. He was released in 1991 after 4 years in isolation. As we impose self isolation upon ourselves, his name is one to remember. After his release he became a fellow of Trinity Hall College in Cambridge (where he once joked that the windows have bars on them), and he also became involved in the Homeless Charity Emmaus UK, which was founded by Selwyn Image, who was a parishioner at St Mark’s Newnham, where Philip Spence was a the Vicar and I began my training for the ministry.
Terry and I had this mad fundraising idea for Emmaus in Cambridge, which was to create, sell tickets for and host the Internet Ball. A Cambridge-style May Ball that would happen online. The unique twist to it was that people would pay serious money for a ticket, dress up even, for an event that was in fact, not going to happen. It would only happen virtually. It caught the imagination of many (not leastly because Terry Waite promoted it widely) and it raised a lot of money and of course awareness for EmmausUK. I ended up on the Committee of Emmaus Cambridge and it was a great charity to be involved with until I left Cambridge to go to St Paul’s Cathedral in 1998.
If you read what I have just said carefully, you will not be surprised how I am reminded of this little episode in my life, as we sail forth into the uncharted waters of self isolation, closed churches, virtual spirituality and online communities. People have been doing the latter for fun for a while now (as we predicted in the mid 1990s), but now it is serious, and indeed necessary. Let there be no talk of evil, but of the vital life and spirit line that our remote contact with one another yields. Perhaps we have been doing it with our families spread far and wide, but now we need to do it with our next door neighbours. If there is a Godsend in this virus-ridden world, it is the Internet. And here we are, using it, to hold ourselves together, to ask for and offer help in the form of action, supplication and kindness (ASK).
And we have only just begun. It is a sort of ‘phoney war’ at the moment. Many of you have offered help and kindness and prayer, for which huge thanks. Some have rung or texted to say ‘give me something to do’. We will. We are in this for the long haul, and we all share with the Prime Minister a determination to win the long game. But it is a long game, and it will be physically, emotionally, spiritually and psychologically challenging. We are not supermen and women playing the Krypton Factor, but ordinary, fragile human beings, dependent on warmth, love, each other and God. If the going gets tough (as it will) remember that, and reach out to others, and give and receive the fellowship of the Holy Spirit in acts of kindness that are far from random (ARK - random acts of kindness!). We must keep our distance, but let’s remain close to God.
This is Mothering Sunday. You can come to church to light a candle for your Mum, and take a candle on behalf of your Mum, or anyone else for that matter. Take a candle from church and light it at home. Take as many as you like. We have at least 4000! If you can make a small contribution for them that would be kind, but the key thing is to have these candles which will unite us in light and hope. As time goes forward, we might nominate a certain time of day at which to light them. If you cannot get to church to collect some, then tell us and we will get them to you. For this is the other aspect of Mothering Sunday - the Mother Church. The Mother Church to whom the children come, the Mother Church who has given birth to our faith and nurtured it. The Mother Church who always cares for and about us and whose loyalty to us is inviolable, however far way we drift. So light two candles on Sunday - one for your Mum, and one for the Mother Church. For just as you can be sure that the Mother Church is doing her best for you at this time, she needs your prayers too - these are challenging times, and when we get through all this, she will have lost some of her children and may never look the same again. So pray. Pray by candlelight for the return of the light of hope, joy and fellowship. And because she is the Mother Church, remember that we are her and she is us. Such that ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:40). We are the Mother Church and there is a greater beauty in us than there is even in the edifice of St Mary Magdalene.
From our gospel reading today:
26When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ 27Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.
Well, as of now we are all mothers and sons and daughters (and fathers), in the isolated family that is St Mary Magdalene’s, but joined in the embracing group hug that is the friendship, relationships and love that we have built up over many years. No virus can consume that.
Keep well. Pray for me as I pray for you.