Sermons from St Faith's

Mother Love
Fr Philip Barnes (Shrine of O.L.W.): Choral Evensong and Devotions, May 4th 2008

It was a simple enough question. It ran something like ‘You have one friend request from Ben Belassie: click here if you are, in fact, friends with Ben’ but it left me with a huge dilemma and a sleepless night. Users of the social-networking website ‘Facebook’ will know what I’m going on about, but if you don’t, let me try and explain. Facebook is basically a website designed to help you keep up with your friends. You can use it to look at a web-pages belonging to people you know, to find out what they’re doing, to share news and photos and videos.

But it works by you offering, or accepting invitations of friendship with those who you know who use it. Hence my crisis over Ben Belassie –what does or doesn’t constitute friendship. At university I couldn’t stand Ben. He was the long haired, chain-smoking, punk music loving hippie I had to spend my first few weeks at college sharing a room with, until my nerves could stand it no more and I had to move. And there he was, large as life, asking if I would be his virtual friend.

Well, I took the plunge and said ‘yes’. And here’s the really shameful thing. It wasn’t because of any Christian motive of reconciliation. No. Father North joined ‘Facebook’ the same time as me, and, being mature, sensible adults we were having a race to see who could get the most friends in the shortest time. I was accepting offers of friendship off people who I barely recognised – anything to boost my popularity, I thought!

Well, ‘Facebook’ has offered me a new way of relating to others, a new way of belonging with my friends. It’s fun –and I enjoy it –but in the end it’s superficial and transient. Tonight you and I are celebrating the only real thing that connects us and draws us together into an everlasting union; a bond that’s made not in cyber-space, but in the flesh and blood of a mother and her child – for they invite us to see in them a whole new way of being human, a whole new way of relating to one another.

To begin to understand what this looks like we need to ponder a bit on tonight’s scripture readings, and in particular that gospel encounter at the foot of the cross. It’s a scene that on the surface looks like a failure. The story of Jesus had begun in such a promising way. The people, and the poor in particular, are entranced by his message and by his miracles of healing. But by the end they are howling for his crucifixion. His own intimate friends and disciples have abandoned him and fled. And at this point, John tells us, the mother of Jesus appears. He says ‘standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother…  and  the disciple  whom he loved  standing  beside her.’  And  Jesus breaks the silence, he speaks to the woman who was the first in the gospel narrative to commit herself unconditionally to his word (remember her instruction at the wedding feast at Cana in Galilee), ‘Woman,’ he says, ‘here is your Son.’

What’s happening in that charged exchange? More certainly that Jesus simply being concerned about the material needs of his next of kin. No, the real importance of this final dying action of Jesus is the formation of a new relationship. They form a new faithful community of the followers of Jesus, the mother who first set Jesus on the road to his hour, and the beloved disciple, the ideal of all disciples.

The Mother of Jesus becomes the Mother of the Disciple. A scene that looks like failure becomes a place of deep creativity. The mother and disciple form a new community of faith, and Mary’s maternal role is affirmed within it. There, beneath the blood-soaked wood of the cross, in mother and friend the Church is born. This is our family. Here we see our mother and our brother. Here we are shown the deepest way of belonging – we share the same blood, the blood of the cross.

So what’s it supposed to look like, this family of ours, created at the cross? What does it mean to say that we share the same blood? Just think about those two figures again, Mary and John; what were their motives for being there that first Good Friday? One was there because of a mother’s love, the other because he had the love of a friend. Two different reasons for being drawn to Jesus, but there they are made one. They can look at one another and see something of the Jesus whom they love in each other: in Mary John sees the perfect origin of his beloved master, in John Mary sees one whom her son has loved and still loves and who did his best to reciprocate that love.

In the community of disciples we will find ourselves alongside those who have been drawn to Jesus for reasons different to our own. Sometimes we might find those reasons perplexing. Sometimes we might even find them hard to live with. Mary and John are there to show us that the family to which we belong is not some cosy club for the like-minded, but that, even with those to whom we find it difficult to get along with, we are committed to seeing beyond the boundaries and hostilities that divide human beings to say instead of one another ‘behold my brother’, ‘behold my sister,’ to seeing the face of Jesus in each other.

To live in company with Mary as our Mother, and John as our brother is to take responsibility for modelling to the world a new way of being with one another: one that is no longer marked by hostility and rejection, but by mutuality and respect. And we catch a glimpse of what this means for us in tonight’s procession. One of the features of worship at the Shrine at Walsingham is that we spend a lot of time processing. In fact, my mother once neatly summarised my job as ‘walking around a lot wearing strange clothes.’ But perhaps this isn’t such and odd or eccentric thing for a Christian to want to do.

For we remind ourselves as we go that we are walking in the wake of the victory of Christ into glory with him in the kingdom; that we walk in company – giving attention to one another on the journey; and that we walk in fellowship with Mary, the mother of all disciples of Jesus, the mother of the Church – in which we were reborn at baptism: reborn to receive the new life of the Spirit who comes to us from the cross; the Spirit who is the Lord and giver of life, the life of love which we shall live in eternity.

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