2 Corinthians 1:3-7; John 10:7-17

4th Sunday of Lent

St Barbara’s; 14.03.2021

Rev Tulo Raistrick

Over the last few weeks we have thought about essentials that we need for our spiritual journey, the things that will help us in following Christ. We have thought about direction (Christ being our compass); nourishment (Christ as the bread of life) and light (Christ being the light of the world). Today we finish this short series by reflecting on one further essential: that of shelter.

I remember as a boy playing football in the park with my brothers on cold, wet Saturday afternoons in the winter. We would stay out until we could hardly see the ball anymore and then head home, weary, cold, and totally caked from head to foot in mud. When we got in mum or dad would have run a hot bath for us, and there would be a warm drink and a snack to eat. It was the knowing that we had that warm, secure place to return to that meant we stayed out for so long and had so much fun. 

And over the years, when out walking for the day, knowing that there was a warm shelter at the end of it could make all the difference. Just this last summer we walked a 15 mile stretch of Hadrian’s Wall in gales and rain, but the knowledge that we were returning to somewhere dry and warm (and with the luxury of an outdoor hot-tub no less!) gave us all the strength and hope to keep going.

We can cope with many challenges in life when we know we have a warm secure place, a place of protection, rest, renewal to return to. A place where we are loved, accepted; a place of comfort and peace. A place to be refreshed and restrengthened before facing the storms of life once more.

For many of us, our mothers have been key in providing this, from our childhoods providing us with the nurturing, protective relationship that has enabled us to grow and step out into the world. Often being the ones who in adult life we still turn to, looking for guidance, or for love and understanding. And even in later years, as roles perhaps get reversed and the ones who cared for us, sheltered us, protected us, become the ones who need our care, our support, our help, even then, mothers so often continue to provide that stability, that rootedness, that connection with who we are. And for many whose mothers have died, whether recently or many years ago, I know that relationship continues to shape you.

Today it is good to pause and give thanks for our mothers, to give thanks for the way they have shaped us and protected us, provided us with that sense of shelter. Lets take a moment to do that now.

Today, Mothering Sunday, is not just a day to remember and give thanks for mothers, important though that is. In fact the day originates in medieval times, when this fourth Sunday in Lent, almost exactly half-way through Lent, was known as Refreshment Sunday, a day when Lenten fasts and disciplines were relaxed for the day. The Bible readings for the day were traditionally ones that reflected on the character of God as a mother to us all. And people were encouraged to return to their “mother” church, the church where they had been baptised.

It was a recognition of the importance of the role of the church in nurturing faith, of helping people along the road of their spiritual journey. Today, in 21st century Britain, we are a far more mobile population than we were in previous generations when it may have been the exception to move away from the parish where we born or baptised. Today, going back to the church where we were baptised may not be possible, but it is a day when we may want to reflect once again on the place of the church community in our lives.

The church is to be that place of shelter, of security, protection, rest and renewal. That place, that community, where we are reinvigorated for the journey ahead, where together we find strength and help for the challenges that we know are to come. The church is to be that place of love and acceptance, that place where we are accepted for who we are; and are loved to help us become all that God would have us be. We all have a part in helping our church to become such a place. Those words from Hebrews: “Let us not give up meeting together” – let us be in the habit of meeting together –  ring true in every generation, and especially for us today.

Today marks a significant milestone in the recent history of our own church. It has been exactly a year in the church’s calendar since we first had to suspend services here in church. Mothering Sunday last year was the first Sunday of the first lockdown. And it has been a year that may have reinforced for many of us how much church matters to us, how much we value being together, seeing one another, worshipping together. Its my prayer that gradually over the coming months more and more of us will feel able to return, that we will be able to worship physically present with one another, not just virtually. And today is an important step, for one which we can be truly grateful, as some of us begin to gather in church once again. Let us pray that our church will continue to be that place of love and security for us all.

And our readings from Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth and from John’s gospel remind us of something even more important. Above all, it is Christ who provides us with the shelter, the protection, the security, the love, that we need. Our mothers, our church, are ultimately but pale reflections of the love, the place of security, that Christ is to us. He is the source of comfort, the one “who comforts us in our troubles”, as Paul puts it.

Jesus’ own words give us two wonderful images. Imagine a sheep pen made up of high stone walls. At night time, the sheep are huddled inside as wolves prowl round the outside, looking for a way in. The only area of vulnerability is the entrance – where the sheep can enter, so too can the wolves. So the shepherd places himself in the entrance – he becomes the gate, the door. Only by going through him can you come and go. He is the sheep’s protection. Christ says he is that gate. He is the one that protects us. When we are experiencing the storms of life, when it feels like events or people are conspiring against us, when we are not sure how we can carry on, it is Christ who nurtures us, protects us, cares for us. We can place ourselves in his hands.

And Jesus continues the image. He is the good shepherd. Not only does he stand in the entrance, sheltering us. He knows each one of us by name, he leads us to places of nourishment. It is in him that we have life.

And particularly poignantly, as we begin to approach holy week and easter in the weeks ahead, Jesus reminds us that a good shepherd, one whose sheep belong to him, will lay down his life for the sheep. That is what Jesus does for us. So great is his love, so great his compassion, so great his mercy. And in doing so, we discover that we are loved by God, which is the greatest shelter, the greatest protection, the greatest security, that any of us can ever receive.

So this Mothering Sunday, let us give thanks for our mothers, let us give thanks for our church, and let us give thanks for Christ.