The Fourth Sunday in Lent was called ‘Mid-Lent’ or ‘Refreshment Sunday’, when the rigors of Lent were relaxed more than was normal for a feast day. It is called Mothering Sunday as a reference to the Epistle reading for the Day (Galatians 4:21-31). The Lenten Epistles follow from each other with teaching about our life as Christians and how we are to follow Christ.
On Mid-Lent Sunday the Epistle talks of bondage and freedom; the bondage of the Law and the Old Covenant as compared to the freedom in Christ, “the promised one”, and the New Covenant. Verse 26 reads “But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.” We gain our freedom from Christ and, as it was seen before the Reformation, the Church.
Thus, Mothering Sunday is about the freedom that we gain through the promise of Jesus Christ delivered through our Mother the Church. People were encouraged to go to their ‘Mother Church’ (their home church or their home Cathedral) to worship and give thanks. Hence apprentices, and others, went home for the weekend and often brought gifts (or accumulated pay) home to their family.
On the other hand, Mother’s Day is a secular festival invented in 1904 and is celebrated on the 2nd Sunday in May in most countries in the world. The UK seems to be the exception. In recent years Mothering Sunday has been hijacked to take the place of a special, secular day to give thanks for our mothers.
The events of Easter took place over a week, traditionally called Passion Week.
It began on Palm Sunday. After all His teaching and healing, Jesus had built a following.
On the Sunday before He was to die, Jesus and His followers arrived at Jerusalem. The city was crowded. Jewish people were arriving from to celebrate Passover. This commemorates how they had escaped from slavery in Egypt nearly 1,500 year earlier.
Jesus rode into the city on a young donkey. He was greeted like a conquering hero. Cheering crowds waved palm branches in tribute. He was hailed as the Messiah who had come to re-establish a Jewish kingdom.
The next day they returned to Jerusalem. Jesus went to the temple, the epicentre of the Jewish faith, and confronted the money-changers and merchants who were ripping off the people. He overturned their tables and accused them of being thieves. The religious authorities were alarmed and feared how He was stirring up the crowds.
On the Tuesday, they challenged Jesus, questioning His authority. He answered by challenging and condemning their hypocrisy. Later that day Jesus spoke to His disciples about future times. He warned them about fake religious leaders; the coming destruction of Jerusalem; wars, earthquakes and famines; and how His followers would face persecution.
By midweek the Jewish religious leaders and elders were so angry with Jesus that they began plotting to arrest and kill Him. One of Jesus’ disciples, Judas, went to the chief priests and agreed to betray Him to them.
Jesus and the 12 disciples gathered on the Thursday evening to celebrate the Passover meal. This is known as the Last Supper. During the evening, Jesus initiated a ritual still marked by Christians – Holy Communion – which commemorates His death. Jesus broke bread and shared it and a cup of wine with His disciples.
Judas then left to meet the other plotters. Jesus continued to teach the others and then went outside into an olive grove to pray. He even prayed for all future believers. He agonised over what was to come but chose the way of obedience. The Bible book, Luke, records Him praying, ‘Father if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done’. Minutes later Judas arrived with soldiers and the chief priests and Jesus was arrested.
There is a saint for Leap Year: he is St Oswald of Worcester, who died on 29th February 992. His family story was extraordinary, and full of some surprising ‘leaps’, all by itself. It provides a tantalising glimpse of what happened to at least one of those pagan Viking warriors who settled in Anglo-Saxon Britain.
For Oswald’s great-uncle had come to England c 865, as part of the ‘Great Heathen Army’ of Viking invaders. But his son, Oswald’s uncle, Oda, forsook paganism, and not only converted to Christianity, but actually ended up as Archbishop of Canterbury. From there, Oda was in a position to help his nephew, Oswald, which he did.
Oda sent young Oswald to be educated at the abbey of Fleury, then a great centre of learning. There Oswald absorbed the Benedictine ideals which would guide his later life and work. Back in England, he became bishop of Worcester in 961, and with the support of King Edgar, eagerly joined in major reforms of the Anglo-Saxon church. In 972 Oswald was made Archbishop of York, and seems to have taken a great interest in renewing the church in the Danelaw. He founded Ramsey Abbey, which became one of the great Fenland monasteries.
Oswald was popular as an archbishop, and always washed the feet of the poor every Lent. On 29th February 992 he had just completed this service at Worcester when he collapsed and died. In later years, Worcester adopted both him and Wulfstan to be its two chief saints: they flank the tomb of King John, which is before the high altar in the cathedral.
Edith was a vicar’s daughter from Swardeston in Norfolk, where she was born in 1865. She became a governess, but her heart was for nursing, so she went on to train at the London Hospital, before nursing in various hospitals such as St Pancras and Manchester.
When Edith was 42, she decided to go abroad, and was appointed matron of a large training centre for nurses in Brussels. She was still there seven years later, when the First World War broke out and German troops invaded Belgium on their way to Paris and the Channel Ports.
Edith’s nursing school became a Red Cross hospital, and she turned down the opportunity to return to the safety of England. Instead, her nurses tended wounded soldiers from both German and Allied armies.
Sadly, in 1915, when the Germans began their occupation of Brussels, they took a dim view of Edith’s work. But they would have been even more unhappy had they known she was helping to smuggle 200 British soldiers across the border into the Netherlands!
Finally, the Germans arrested Edith in August 1915, and put her into solitary confinement. They tricked her into confessing to a charge which carried the death penalty. But Edith refused to show either regret at what she had done, or any fear or bitterness towards her captors.
On 11th October 1915, the night before her execution, Edith was visited by the Anglican chaplain to Brussels, the Revd Stirling Gahan. Together they said the words of Abide with Me, and Edith received her last Holy Communion.
She told Gahan: “I am thankful to have had these ten weeks of quiet to get ready. Now I have had them and have been kindly treated here. I expected my sentence and I believe it was just. Standing, as I do, in view of God and eternity, I realise that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness to anyone.”
Edith was shot by a firing squad next day, on 12th October 1915.
After the war her body was exhumed and buried in Norwich Cathedral. Her memorial service in Westminster Abbey attracted thousands. A commemorative statue of her stands near Trafalgar Square.
A Bible story reflection from Colin Reeves, Editor, Abbey Link (the magazine for Pershore Abbey)
Everyone loves the story of Jonah because of the whale – and they probably take it with a large pinch of sea salt!
Yet, to be honest, that whale is not a whale and it has very little part in this exciting Bible short story (it’s only 48 verses long, found towards the end of the Old Testament). Although, being a Jewish prophetical book, it is full of hidden significance and parallel meanings, it is easy to enjoy at face value. Reading it, we may make a remarkable discovery … Jonah is me.
Most of us have a sense of right and wrong, a prompting of the conscience to do the proper thing. It nags away when the wrong path in life is taken, we feel guilty and things don’t seem to go right. Jonah tries to avoid his prompting by deliberately setting off in the opposite direction – trouble is not far behind! And, inevitably, his trouble rubs off on everyone around him. They in turn force him to admit the problem and face up to it. ‘I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you!’
Does this situation ring any bells? Overboard he goes and along comes the whale (in truth, ‘the Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah’). It doesn’t matter what the creature was, because the nub of the story is Jonah’s situation and his reaction. He is both literally and spiritually at rock bottom. He has run away from God, he has upset those around him, he is in deep, deep trouble, everything seems hopeless and he has only one option left…
‘In my distress I called to the Lord… The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me…to the roots of the mountains I sank down… But you brought my life up from the pit, O Lord my God… when my life was ebbing away, I remembered you Lord… Salvation comes from the Lord.’
It is an experience shared by many throughout centuries and is vividly demonstrated in the New Testament by those who came to Christ. It is an experience echoed in ordinary lives today – running from God, getting into deep water, regret and repentance, then finally turning back. Yet the patient Lord Jesus, standing outside our closed hearts, says: ‘Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me.’
Anyone can be in a hurry, anyone can be anxious. Today, improve your quality of life by putting your confidence in your Shepherd and accepting in your heart that God is enough.
Canon Paul Hardingham considers a best-loved psalm
There are few psalms as personal and real as Psalm 23.It records David’s experience of God as his Shepherd going through dark times. In the midst of the effects of a global pandemic, this psalm speaks to the fears that can overwhelm us.
He Knows Me:‘The Lord is my shepherd…’ Just as a good shepherd knows every sheep in his flock, so God know each one of us intimately.
He Provides for Me:‘He makes me lie down in green pastures…’ Just as the shepherd knows the needs of his sheep, so God will provide what we need in our lives and circumstances.
He Guides Me: ‘He guides me along the right paths…’ Just as the shepherd leads the sheep to the best pastures, so God provides the best for us, as we listen and follow Him.
He Protects Me:‘Even though I walk through the darkest valley…’Just as the sheep have no need to fear danger when following the shepherd, so we live knowing God’s presence and protection.
He Comforts Me:‘your rod and your staff, they comfort me.’ As the shepherd’s rod defends the sheep, and the staff enables him to control the sheep, so God comforts us through His Word and discipline.
The final verses of the psalm (v5-6) offer the security of knowing that our lives are in His hands, even through death, as He leads us to the home we’ve been looking for all our lives.
Some years ago, a great actor was asked to recite Psalm 23, but asked one of the other guests to do the same. His remarkable rendition was followed by the other man, an older Christian speaking from the heart. Afterwards the actor said: ‘The difference between us is that I know the psalm, but he knows the shepherd.’