For thus says the LORD ... As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. (Isa. 66:12-13)
In the Name of God: Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today is often called ‘Mothering Sunday’ in the Anglican Communion – a name that comes from the first verse of our Epistle reading: the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother (Gal. 4:26). This comforting image is most appropriate and opportune at such a time as this - during the present coronavirus pandemic that has gripped our world. This is a time of great fear, instability and uncertainty. Life as we have come know it has ground to a halt. We are lost and confused. We are wandering in a wilderness we have never before experienced.
Dare I say, it is quite fitting that this pandemic has occurred during the season of Lent. Like Israel of old in the story of the Exodus, we too have entered a kind of desert: we are without the normal comforts of life, worried about our livelihood, wondering how to occupy our time.
Amidst the toil of this earthly pilgrimage, today we are called to look up and be reinvigorated by the vision of our future home of the New Jerusalem, the eternal city of peace (Rev. 21-22). With that vision in sight, our time in this wilderness will not be without purpose, our wandering will not be aimless, this apparent wasteland will be for us a fruitful field (Isa. 32:15). God will use this time to bring about our ultimate good. So friends, let us embrace this unexpected journey, because today God in Christ embraces us. For thus says the LORD… As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem (Isa. 66:12-13).
The heavenly Jerusalem is made present here on earth through the Church. The Church is a foretaste, sign and instrument of the New Jerusalem in this world; and so the Church is our spiritual mother. Though we are unable, at this time, to gather in church for worship, the mission and ministry of the Church remains the same, even if our delivery methods are having to adjust to a new reality of social distancing.
The role of the mother is threefold: to give birth to her baby, to nourish and care for the infant, and to raise the child to maturity.
The Christian life requires a great deal of mothering; and that is the proper role of the Church. We are indeed reborn as the children of God by the water of baptism and the Holy Spirit (John 3:5). Seemingly now more than ever before, we need the nourishing of God’s Word and the life-giving heavenly manna of the Word-made-flesh, Jesus Christ, who has come down from heaven to be the life of the world, as we hear in today’s Gospel story (John 6:5-14).
Though we are sustained and strengthened by this Word, our infant steps are halting and uncertain. So often we stumble; we need a mother’s comfort and guidance. Only gradually, word-by-word, do we learn to speak the language of God’s Kingdom. Only through the trials and tribulations of life - and our mother’s instruction throughout - do we grow to full maturity in Christ (Eph. 4:13-16). Only thus are we are trained in the virtues of faith, hope and love which will make us citizens of the New Jerusalem.
Faith is God’s gift and yet we must learn it in the face of fear and uncertainty. Hope must be tested by the temptation to despair. And our love must be re-directed away from worldly things toward God. Thus, if we have eyes to see and ears to hear, the wilderness of this present pandemic shall be for us a time of training in these virtues.
Friends today, on this Mothering Sunday, we are embraced by God in the midst of this present crisis. We are strengthened to face it honestly and steadily. We are reassured and reminded of God’s promise to be with us always to the end of the age (Matt. 28:20).
Today the Church sets before us a vision of our final and eternal home, the heavenly city, against which the gates of hell shall never prevail (Matt. 16:18). Behold, our feet now stand within your gates, O Jerusalem! (Ps. 122:2). By this vision, our faith is fortified, our hope is strengthened and our love is refined. So in the anxiety of this present time, let us be strong and of good courage. Do not fear nor be in dread… for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you (Deut. 31:6).
Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds his people, from this time forth and forevermore. (Psalm 125:1–2)
Artwork:John of Patmos watches the descent of New Jerusalem from God (14th century tapestry).