A reflection for Mothering Sunday Lent IV Sunday 10th March 2024 by Judy Wedderspoon Lay Reader

The fourth Sunday in Lent is traditionally known and celebrated as Mothering Sunday. This is an old tradition. It was the Sunday in Lent when girls in service were allowed to go home and visit their mothers. It was also the Sunday on which it was customary to visit the local cathedral as the mother church of the diocese. More recently, and perhaps regrettably, this Sunday has been effectively renamed Mother’s Day. Let us for a moment put all that aside and consider what today’s readings are telling us!

Our Old Testament reading from the First Book of Samuel, gives us a picture of Samuel’s mother, Hannah. In order to understand the passage, you need a bit of background. Hannah is one of two wives of Elkanah, a devout Israelite. She is childless, a deep disgrace for which the other wife, Penninah, repeatedly taunts her, year after year when they go to make sacrifice to God. One year, Hannah in her misery goes privately to offer prayer to God. She prays for a child and, as part of that prayer, she vows solemnly that if she is given a son, she will dedicate him to God. Eli, the old priest who hears her prayer, blesses her, so she returns home in hope.

And Hannah conceives and bears a son – the gift of God, as she names him. But she does not forget her vow. As soon as he is weaned – about age 3 -   he will be dedicated to God.  And, as we have heard, she fulfils her vow. Samuel will be a Nazirite, effectively a monk in the service of God.

Does Hannah remind you of anyone in the New Testament? Think of Elisabeth, Mary’s cousin, also disgraced by her childlessness. She is at last to bear a son. But the angel has already told Zechariah that her son is to be totally dedicated to God. She will have to be ready to let him go. John too will be a Nazirite.

Think also of Mary herself. She knows from the outset that the son she is to bear will be special, the Son of God. But when she and Joseph come to present the infant Jesus in the temple, Simeon tells her that her baby will be the glory of Israel – but that a sword will pierce her heart [Luke 2:32 and 34]. She too must be prepared to let him go to live his dedicated life.

Letting go is one of the hardest lessons we have to learn in life. I will never forget my son’s first day in kindergarten. I dropped him off and he trotted away, all anticipation that he was finally joining his big sister in her school. He didn’t even turn around to wave. I sat in the car and wept.

It’s not just letting go of a child that is hard. It’s letting go of a spouse, a parent, a brother or sister or a beloved friend, or even a dog or a cat. It’s letting go of a home, of one’s health or eyesight or hearing, or of cherished possessions. I sometimes think that the most we can hope for when feeling the loss of letting go is to be able to say with Job “the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord” [Job 1:21].

But today’s Gospel reading gives us another insight into letting go.

We do not know how the three Marys came to be at the foot of Jesus’ cross. We know that John had followed Jesus and the soldiers into the courtyard of the high priest’s house. We can fairly I think surmise that John continued to follow and watch until he heard his Lord condemned to death. Perhaps then he sought out the women and brought them to the site of crucifixion. 

Looking down from the cross after his night of agony and torture, Jesus sees his mother, and even in his pain he realises that his earthly work is not quite done. He has to let go of his mother. He has to help her finally to let go of him. So he commends her to the care of John, his beloved friend and disciple. They are to be as mother and son to each other. Only then can Jesus take a final drink and exclaim “It is finished”.

 Sometimes that is how we too are enabled to let go. Our gracious Lord provides a friend, or some other help and consolation, music perhaps, or a poem, or a precious landscape, to assist us over the initial pain of bereavement, even as we know that it will never be the same again. Letting go is a process that is never quite completed It is an essential part of motherhood – and of life.

But let us note and take to heart the words of St Paul: “clothe yourselves with love… let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts… and be thankful” [Colossians 3:14-15]. That is the message I would leave with you on this Mothering Sunday.


A reflection for Lent III 3rd March 2024 by Canon Dean Fostekew

You might not believe it but I can get quite grumpy at times over certain things! I suspect that you might be similar - our Lord certainly was! 

Imagine coming home to discover that a relative had set up shop in your drawing room without permission. You’d be quite cross. I know that I would be. It must have been a bit like that of Jesus that day in the Temple when he entered the holy place (his Father’s house) to pray and discovered it to be like a market place with all sense of sanctity gone. 

Part of the Jewish worship practice at the time involved blood sacrifice for sin (you can see the parallels in Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross). Worshippers were encouraged to buy an animal for slaughter that would carry their sins for them and with its ritual death purify the sinner. The animal became the ‘scapegoat’ sacrifice. 

The bigger the sin, the bigger the animal needed to sacrifice. It became big business for the Temple as those wishing atonement were unlikely able to travel very far with the required animal sacrifice. Hence the presence of those selling cattle, sheep and doves. It was lucrative and again hence the presence of the money-changers. Nothing came free. You had to buy the animal and you probably had to change coins to do so and were charged an exchange fee, just as we are today when buying foreign currency. A lot of people got rich on the needs of others. No wonder Jesus was furious. This wasn’t how it was meant to be.

In over-tuning the tables and whipping the money-changers Jesus won no friends in the Temple hierarchy. He threatened their living and where money is involved people will sometimes go to extremes to keep it. If his preaching hadn’t been radical enough this act of righteous anger in his father’s house basically sealed his fate. As we know the authorities acted quickly and within days Jesus was dead on the Cross. 

I indicated earlier the parallels between the sacrificial animals and Jesus who would become the sacrificial Lamb of God. The animals were seen to take away individual sin; Jesus being God, however, takes away all the sin of humanity for all time. 

If we jump back to the reading from Exodus we can read the laws by which God says he is pleased if we follow them and in keeping them that he will bless us until the end of time. Simple commandments to follow but not always easy to keep. But, none-the-less guidelines to help us live our lives. God knows that we will struggle to keep the commandments but hopes that we will at least try to do so. 

Paul, reminds us of the power of the Cross and of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins (as mad as that might appear to some). How could one man’s death save us from ourselves? Well, when that man was fully God as well, we get the answer. 

God in Jesus paid the ultimate price once and for all time. His death did away with the need for the blood sacrifice of animals and we are reminded of that every time we receive Holy Communion. Jesus’ sacrifice freed us from all costs. We do not have to pay to have our sins forgiven we just have to freely repent .

In cleansing the Temple of what Jesus knew was unnecessary and in giving his human life he wiped the slate clean for all of us. Every day he offers us a new start so long as we can acknowledge our mistakes and repent of them. He is the eternal blood sacrifice that we do not have to buy because his sacrifice was not bought with coin, it was bought with love and freely given away to us.

A reflection for Sunday 25th February by the Rev'd David Warnes

Think for a moment about something that you once said about which you now feel embarrassed or ashamed. Don’t be alarmed, I’m not going to ask any of you to share it with us. That moment of recollection will give you some insight into how St Peter must have felt when Jesus rebuked him. It’s a moment that he would never forget, though reflecting on it in the light of Easter he knew that he had been forgiven for this and also for later denying that he knew Jesus. 

We can be confident that today’s Gospel is an accurate record of this exchange between Peter and Jesus because it meets what historians call “the criterion of embarrassment”. It shows Peter, a leader of huge importance in the early decades of the Christian movement, in a bad light. Peter’s words must have been stronger than most translations of the Bible make clear. We read that he rebuked Jesus. The Greek verb that the Gospel writer uses (epitimao) is used elsewhere in the Gospels when Jesus challenges demons. That helps to explain why Jesus reacts by rebuking Peter with the words “Get behind me, Satan.” But there was almost certainly another reason why Jesus said that. He was remembering his forty days of fasting in the wilderness and the temptations that he faced, temptations which all, in different ways, were about the misuse of power. Peter, who has just acknowledged that Jesus is the Messiah, is shocked by Jesus’ prediction of his own suffering, death and resurrection. That didn’t fit his belief about how the Messiah would use his power to liberate and restore Israel. 

If the first part of our Gospel reading meets the criterion of embarrassment, the second part, in which Jesus tells the disciples and the crowd:

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

meets a different test of authenticity, which we might call the criterion of toughness. It’s not the sort of thing you say if your aim is to win friends, influence people or attract supporters. It’s not the sort of thing that politicians will be saying in the coming General Election. And the passage gets tougher still.

“For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”

For the first readers of St Mark’s Gospel, those words had an immediate, literal and frightening reality. They knew that Peter, Paul and other Christians had been martyred during the period of persecution ordered by the Emperor Nero. Sadly, these words still have a literal meaning for Christians facing persecution in some parts of the world. What are we to make of this saying, given that we can worship openly and in safety, and that the worst that we face from our contemporaries is indifference or misunderstanding? We are unlikely to be challenged to lose our lives for the sake of the Gospel in a literal sense, but this text challenges us to reflect on the impact that discipleship should have on our lives. 

In thinking about this, I’ve been reminded that the phrase “living your best life” has come into widespread use in recent years, especially on social media. It was first popularised by the American chat show host Oprah Winfrey. Put that phrase in a search engine and you’ll find a range of views as to what it might mean. You’ll find sensible guidance from psychologists and psychotherapists, for example:

“Beware a sense of entitlement to a trouble-free life. No one can claim exemption from hard knocks and unfulfilled expectations, hopes and dreams.”

You’ll also find advice that is rooted in individualism and tends towards selfishness. That’s the thinking that lies behind the kind of tweet which consists of a selfie taken in an exotic holiday destination or an expensive restaurant with the caption “This is me, living my best life”.

This sermon isn’t heading in a puritanical direction. Holidays, entertainments, good food and wine, these are good things to be enjoyed, though our enjoyment should be tempered by an awareness that we are fortunate to be able to enjoy them when many cannot. Today’s Gospel isn’t a call to rigid asceticism. Jesus isn’t saying “deny yourself things that you desire”, though that can be a good short-term Lenten discipline and becomes vital to our spiritual health and to the well-being of others if our desires get out of control. He is saying “deny yourself”. This is an invitation to recognise our own self-centredness and to move away from it, centering our lives on him. Doing so has the potential to transform our relationship with others, enablibng us to live our best life.

We cannot deny ourselves in this sense unless we come to some knowledge of ourselves, our flaws and weaknesses. That kind of self-examination is an important part of discipleship, and Lent is a good time to emphasise it. But that self-examination should always happen within the secure knowledge that we are loved by the God who knows our weaknesses and shortcomings far better than we know them ourselves and that God loves us unreservedly. 

I began by asking you to recollect something about which, on reflection, you feel embarrassed or ashamed. That’s one step on the journey of self-examination but it’s only a first step. If we’re embarrassed about something that we said or did because it made other people think less well of us, we haven’t yet escaped from the prison of our own ego. If, on the other hand, we are regretting the hurt we have caused to someone else then we are acknowledging that we haven’t on that occasion lived our best life and we are opening ourselves to the transformation that the Grace of God makes possible.


A reflection for Lent I Sunday 18th February 2024 by Canon Dean Fostekew

I wonder how many of us remember God’s Covenant, with us, his people, every time we look at a rainbow? I have to admit that I don’t always think of it. Quite often I am more interested to trying to see the second, shadowy rainbow that always accompanies the bright one. Yet the significance of the rainbow in both Jewish and Christian theology is very important as it reminds us not only of God’s Covenant with us but also his protection of us. 

After the flood, when only eight human beings were left, so the Book of Genesis tells us, God placed the rainbow in the sky as a sign to Noah and his family that he would never again visit his vengeance on the human race. It makes me wonder if God was surprised at his anger and how he treated the us and that the rainbow was as much to remind him of his covenant with us as to remind us? 

It’s worth pondering on, especially as we believe that we have a loving and open armed God. It is that loving God that we see reflected in the life of Jesus as indicated in the epistle and Gospel readings we’ve just heard. 

Peter tells us that although God was angry once again, with his people for our disobedient ways he did not seek to destroy us all as he did in the flood but sought to make us see sense in the ministry of his Son. Even is that meant his Son dying on the Cross to prove how much he loves us. God was prepared to die himself rather than to smite us! It is the Gospel, account that tells us that Jesus was of God; again reinforcing the extremes that God would go to, to tell us he loves us and to encourage us to change our disobedient ways. 

In the three readings today we are reminded that we are at times re-born to new life. Noah and family came though the waters of the flood to new life in a new land. Jesus was clearly identified through the Waters of Baptism and the descent of the dove as God’s Son (God incarnate) and we are reminded that in our Baptism we die to our old selves and are re-born to new life. Water links the three readings and God’s covenant with us is re-affirmed. 

Firstly in the rainbow we are reminded that God will never again take such drastic measures in punishing our bad behaviour (although we might through our own stupid behaviour annihilate ourselves by destroying the Creation we are called to care for). In our Baptism we are a new creation born in the light of Christ and washed by the waters that cover the Earth and sealed by the Holy Spirit as God’s own. Just as the Holy Spirit as a dove showed the gathered onlookers at Jesus’ Baptism by John that he too was marked by God as his chosen one. All these events are covenant reminders to us of the covenant God established in the first place with Noah and his family. 

But, why a covenant? A covenant is not a simple agreement between two parties. It does not simply say that if we are good then God will not smite us. It is much deeper and much more complicated. A covenant suggests that both parties have an active agreement to do something for the mutual benefit of each other. 

In the Covenant God has with us, the Human Race, we are called to care for Creation as good stewards and to care for each other and God. In return God will care for and love and bless us beyond measure. This Covenant is life-affirming and everlasting and we have to work hard to keep our side of it. God will always keep his side as proved in the sacrifice of his Son. And, we have to prove that we will no longer ravage Creation for our own selfish ends. Words we all need to heed in this time of climate change and emergency. 

Under the Covenant, however, it is never too late for us to change our ways and try to do better in the ways we stewardship Creation or live our lives. That’s what the Covenant is about; it is an active and living agreement that reminds us that we should always try to do the best for God and that which comes from God and that God will in turn do the best for us as well. 

We need, I believe, for a start to give thanks regularly for all the many blessings we are given and not to take them for granted. For in doing so I would hope that we might open our eyes to how we are living our lives and open our hearts and minds to how we might have to change to benefit each other and to respect the God we love. 

This Lent, I encourage you do just that; ponder on the blessings you receive from God; give thanks for them and try to work out how you might be able to share them with others. Pray too that if each of us can do this, then perhaps our small positive steps might enable and encourage others to do the same. Together we might set about changing the world, one small step at a time. So long as we can each try to make that first small step in our lives. 

As Neil Armstrong once said: “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

A reflection for the Sunday next to Lent 11th February 2024 by The Rev'd Russell Duncan

The sabbath was made for humankind and not humankind for the sabbath (Mark 2:27)

One of the courses which I am studying at New College  is entitled “Jesus and the Gospels”.  We are presently looking at what we can know about the historical Jesus. It will go on to analyse the ways in which we might approach the gospels and will end with looking at some of those books which didn’t make it into the New Testament (for example the Gospel of Thomas) and will ask what process led to their exclusion.  

Bart D Ehrman, an American New Testament scholar, comments that “the Pharisees represent probably the best-known and least-understood Jewish sect.  It appears that this sect began as a group of devout Jews intent above all on keeping the entire will of God. Rather than accepting and keeping the religion of the Greeks, they insisted on knowing and obeying the Law of their own God to the fullest extent possible”.

One difficulty is that in many places there is ambiguity. For example, Jews are told in the Ten Commandments to keep the Sabbath day holy, but nowhere does the Torah (the compilation of the first five books of the Hebrew Bible) indicate precisely how this is to be done. Pharisees devised rules and regulations to assist them in keeping this and all other Laws of Moses. These rules eventually formed a body of tradition, which to stay with our example, indicated what a person could and could not do on the Sabbath in order to keep it holy, or set apart from all other days. 

The rules and regulations that developed came to have a status of their own and were known in some circles as the “oral” Law, which was set alongside the “written” Law of Moses. It appears that Pharisees believed that anyone who kept the oral Law would be almost certain to keep the written Law as well. The intent was not to be legalistic but to be obedient to what God has commanded. 

In our first story Jesus and his disciples were going through the corn fields one Sabbath day; his disciples began to pluck the ears of corn and to eat them. On any ordinary day the disciples were doing what was freely permitted. But all work was forbidden on the Sabbath. By their actions the disciples had technically broken these rules and were classified as law-breakers. 

In our second story there was a man in the synagogue with a paralysed hand. The Greek word means that he had not been born that way but that some illness had taken the strength from him.  It was the Sabbath; all work was forbidden and to heal was to work. Medical attention could be given only if a life was in danger. Jesus knew that this man’s life was not in danger but he wanted to challenge the Pharisees and to show compassion to this man. 

Our two stories are fundamental because they show the clash of two ideals.  To the Pharisee, religion was ritual. To Jesus, it was service.  It was love of God and love of others. It was love in action. The most important thing in the world was not the correct performance of a ritual but the spontaneous answer to the cry of human need. 

Help us to be gentle towards every person we encounter today, in thought, word and deed. May we recognise that others are facing difficulties which we know nothing about. Still our thoughts, bridle our tongues and open our hearts.