Sermons from St Faith's     

                       Stabat Mater Dolorosa

Special Relationships
Fr Neil Kelley, Mothering Sunday, 2012  

If I said the words “special relationship” to you – where would your thoughts be directed?

Perhaps today, on this 4th Sunday in Lent (Laetare Sunday) which has been hijacked by Mothering Sunday, our thoughts go to the special relationships we have, or have had, with our Mothers. Expressions of that love and gratitude are found in cards, flowers, chocolates, burnt toast and warm tea in bed!

Perhaps the words special relationship bring to mind sickly images of David (call me Dave) Cameron and Barack Obama. I wondered at one point this last week, when they were saying how each couldn’t exist without the other whether these public displays of affection were leading to the first Gay Marriage! For that issue, on which many Christians will disagree, is an issue which is challenging the nature of same sex ‘special relationships’.

Special Relationship is also the title of a rather good film - a dramatization that traces former Prime Minister Tony Blair's relationships with Bill Clinton and George W. Bush
But our Gospel reading today points to another special relationship.

Outside of the relationship of the Holy Trinity – three persons in one God – perhaps the special relationship par excellence is that of Our Lord and His Mother. Those of us who have known the special love of a mother know what that feels like. Those of you who are Mothers, and have perhaps lost a child, will know not just of the special love but of the profound pain which cannot be extricated from that love.

"Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? ...asks the prophet Isaiah in Chapter 49. Today is a day for remembering our Mothers and for giving thanks that a special relationship between our parents brought us to birth.

That special relationship of the Saviour and His Mother is an inspiration. It has inspired many artists, poets and composers: one only needs to listen to the wonderful settings of the Stabat Mater to realise that – from Vivaldi, Rossini, Pergolesi, Dvorak, Poulenc to Karl Jenkins. Even Schubert has written a Stabat Mater which was news to me this week!

The message of the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows is a logical development from the feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary – or Candlemass as it is more commonly known. That feast recalls the moment when the aged Simeon tells Mary that, as her vocation to be the Lord’s Mother is lived out, a sword will pierce her heart. Today we realise how true his words were as we recall that “near the Cross of Jesus stood his mother”. In one sense we don’t need to make any comment about that. Actions speak louder than words, and the picture of Mary watching her Son’s torment and agony is more than many mothers could bear. As she watched her Son walking the Way of the Cross, carrying his cross, those words of Simeon will have hit her hard in a way they perhaps didn’t before. This is what the old man meant. Of course the triumph of Easter was to come, but did Mary know that? We can, however, imagine the desolation of her life as a result of her Son’s death.

Many people at some stage of life experience a sense of being alone. A sense of isolation. There’s no Calvary. No beloved disciple. No hill. No centurion. After his body had been laid in a tomb Mary is completely alone. And that is how it must have been. Even the most skilled and pastoral bereavement team cannot take away the hurt of real separation. No-one can go through this pain for us at times. Only by embracing the darkness and the pain, can we ever hope to make some very small step along the road of healing and wholeness. That sense of being alone – even in a crowded room – is stark, harsh and very real.

But deeper than inspired words or music the special relationship of Mary and Jesus gives us a pattern to emulate in our discipleship. Do we stay the course with people? Are we with our friends all the way? Just how much pain can we take from those we love and, yes, there are times when we have to say “enough is enough.”

As we think of ‘special relationships’ today there is one final one we must think of. That special relationship between each one of us and Our Lord. Have our lives been changed or challenged at all during Lent? Have we made an effort or not? Do the bible studies and weekday devotions like Stations of the Cross apply only to others – to sad people who have nothing better to do? If all we are doing is going to Church on a Sunday, then how is our relationship with the Lord deepening and growing? Does it feel as if the cross we are carrying during Lent is made of heavy wood, or is it as light as a feather? What, in fact, makes our own relationship with God special? Is your relationship with God special - or is it practically non-existent? A disciple’s true relationship with the Lord will mean more than just having a piece of paper which says we’ve been baptised!

The Virgin of Sorrows prays with us, and for us, and she teaches us the cost and pain of loving and the true nature of discipleship. But she teaches us to place ourselves at the foot of the Cross so that we might be raised to the glory of the Resurrection.

Our Blessed Lady, Mary of Sorrows, pray for us and with us, that today we, like you and the beloved disciples, may be counted faithful followers of your Son as very shortly we journey with you to the Foot of His Cross.

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