“God loved the world so much that he gave his only son…”
Today we reach the fourth Sunday of Lent which is known as Laetare Sunday coming from the Latin to Rejoice. It is also a reminder that we are now mid-way through the penitential season of Lent and the colour of the vestments and the tabernacle cover change from violet to a subtle rose colour, indicating to us like a spring bud that life is about to come into full bloom and something is about to happen. We get a glimpse that Easter and the Resurrection are just around the liturgical corner, which nicely coincides with our season of Spring in the Northern Hemisphere.
Our Gospel reading from John beautifully describes in almost poetical form the great mystery of God’s only begotten son being sent into the world, not to condemn the world but to bring everlasting life. These words from John’s gospel give us great comfort when we reflect over the past year of being in a pandemic, where so many people have died and it has been so difficult for people to mourn and be comforted by loved ones. The hope that we have as Christian’s is the hope of eternal life, the resurrection and that this world is not all that there is. We know that death is not the end because Jesus Christ rose from the dead! The Christian faith is based upon this truth and we believe it. Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Son of God rose triumphant over death and evil and death did not win the day on that first Easter morning. The strange irony is that it was God’s only begotten Son, Jesus, who ends up being condemned by humanity whom he had come into the world to save.
Whenever I hear the words - God so loved the world – I am often transported back to my youth on the Isle of Wight when the joint choirs of Newport churches would come together on Good Friday to sing Sir John Stainer’s oratorio ‘The Crucifixion’. We would sing to a packed Newport Minster and at the heart of this great masterpiece of Victorian Church music is the chorus ‘God so loved the world’ and it is a beautifully moving piece, evoking the truth of what this means for us as Christians and for humanity as a whole.
Today is also Mothering Sunday, which always falls on Laetare Sunday and comes from the Medieval custom of visiting your mother church, the church where you were baptised and to say special prayers. It later became the custom that whilst visiting your mother church you would also visit your own mother and present her with a gift on this day, sometimes a Simnel cake which would be used at Easter.
For many of us this will be the second mother’s day which we have not been able to celebrate with our own mother or family, as last year many of the usual mother’s day activities were cancelled as people began to worry about Covid-19 and it fell just before we went into our first national lockdown. I am still fortunate enough to have both my parents still alive and happily married living together on the Isle of Wight, but I have not seen my mum and dad since the second wave began last year, despite us not being very far from each other. We as a family decided to be cautious when the second wave began and I have not been over to see them since November. I come into fairly close contact with a lot of people during my pastoral ministry whether that be at funerals, in school chaplaincy, at baptisms or in general conversations which cannot be avoided easily. So like so many of us, mother’s day will be another strange one this year.
The current lockdown has been particularly difficult I think for all of us, falling as it does in winter and with a long time still to go until the restrictions are finally lifted. Use this time positively and constructively by supporting others where you can, by praying for those who are in need at this time. During this time of pandemic, lockdown and isolation we need to continue reaching out to people with Christian love and charity and we need to continue talking to Jesus in prayer. This is a difficult time and Jesus knows this. Talk to him in prayer, tell him how you feel, be honest and upfront and uphold the community you are living and working in with prayer! Prayer is the answer, particularly if you are at home and unable to get out. One of the things we can all do is pray and minister to our neighbour as Christians. Keep going, be strong and reflect on those words from our Gospel: “For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
God bless, Fr Ross