Wednesday, March 06, 2002

The fourth Sunday in Lent.

On this Lord's Day we look back over 22 days of Lent and three Sundays in Lent. Our pilgrimage towards the Cross of Jesus and his empty tomb is more than half way there. We have eighteen more days of Lent and two more Sundays to go before we can cry out, "Christ is risen from the dead, Alleluia!"

This Sunday is a day of joy, captured by the original introit from Isaiah 66:10, "Rejoice ye with Jerusalem" - thus Laetare (Latin for rejoice) Sunday. It is also the day we call both Mothering (from the Epistle) and Refreshment (from the Gospel) Sunday. Traditionally it is a day where we allow ourselves major relief from our discipline of fasting and enjoy a special treat (e.g., a piece of simnel cake if we are in a British culture).

The EPISTLE from Galatians 4:21-31 is not easy for modern readers as it contains Paul's use of allegory to contrast the old and new covenants, that from Sinai with that from the Calvary, the Cross of Christ. In his allegory, which is addressed to Christians who were reverting to Jewish practices, the apostle contrasts two women who were mothers (Hagar, the slave, & Sarah, the free woman), their two sons (Ishmael & Isaac), the two forms of religion represented by them, one of bondage and one of freedom; two cities, the earthly and the heavenly Jerusalem as the centres of these religions; two forms of spiritual motherhood, and two distinct futures in relation to the God of Moses and of Jesus.

The Church of God, centred in the heavenly Jerusalem, is presented as the Mother of all believers. Thus the word "Mothering", pointing to the Church as the loving sphere in which we are born from above by the Word and the Spirit of God and as the holy place where we are nurtured as Christians. We cannot have the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ as our Father unless we have the church as our mother! There is no individualistic Christianity!

The GOSPEL is from John 6:1-14 and is the account of the feeding of the multitude by Jesus at the time of Passover. From this event we gain the name of Refreshment Sunday, for we believe that Jesus provides living and everlasting refreshment for our souls. It is good for us to read the part of John 6 which is not included in the Gospel [verses 15ff.] for there we learn of Jesus as the Bread of Life, something which is only hinted at in the verses used for the Gospel reading this day.

In the COLLECT we also look to the Cross and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ as the source and basis for our petition to God the Father to have mercy upon us and to forgive us for our evil deeds.

The Revd Dr Peter Toon

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