A Sermon that was NOT preached on Mothering Sunday (The Fourth Sunday of Lent) during
The Great Pandemic of 2020,
The Anglican Church of St. Thomas the Apostle, Kefalas, Crete
March 22, 2020 11:00 am
When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her,
he said to his mother,
‘Woman, here is your son.’
Then he said to the disciple,
‘Here is your mother.’
And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. John 19.26-27
The Church as Family
As I said to Athanasius the Alpaca and Mla the Raven, some commentators suggest that the church was born at the cross. Why is that? Jesus, in giving the care of his mother to the Beloved Disciple, and identifying him as her son, creates a new family. The church is a family into which we are adopted, and it is characterised by care for one another. When we are baptised, we become part of that family. Insofar as we do the will of the Father, we are his brothers and sisters, and mother (Matthew 12:50).
The Beloved Disciple is never named in the Fourth Gospel. By the Second Century CE he was identified as John, the brother of James, a fisherman from Galilee – but the gospel itself does not have this identification. Below I have a scholarly note about this, but here I just want t mention that the anonymity of the Beloved Disciple allows us to project ourselves into that person (and it may not be insignificant that the mother of Jesus is also not named in this passage). At the foot of the cross the Beloved Disciple – and perhaps all of us who follow Jesus – are given responsibility for the other person. The cross is about atonement, which is not just having sins washed away and ransom paid, but it is also about being entrusted and empowered by God to carry on the ministry of care of Jesus of Nazareth.
The Idea of Home as the Place of Church
Now, I misspoke when I talked to Athanasius and Mla. I said Jesus told them to go home, and that’s not correct. But that is what the Beloved Disciple interpreted Jesus’s words to mean – he took Mary into his own home. By the 4th century pious tradition asserted that John brought his adopted mother to Ephesus, in what is now south-west Anatolia in Turkey, near the city of Selçuk, and tourists can go to the tomb of John and the House of Mary. But I think we can put another spin on it beyond the historical or legendary.
Home is the place of the Church, no less than the church buildings. Walk into any Greek home and almost invariably there are icons, and people will reverence them. While we may be in church for a couple of hours on a Sunday morning, most of us spend a third or more of our time in our houses or flats. If our faith means anything to us, then the home is also a place of prayer, of meditation, of study of the scriptures, of learning, and of action. we remain the church even when we are home and dispersed.
Home is, ideally, a place of care and retreat. We have been told by the Greek government Μένουμε σπίτι, σωζουμε ζωες – “We stay home, we save lives”. As we stay home now, let us be that church that cares for others by, ironically, not interacting with others in person. Let us be the church that enters into a desert of isolation, not as a deprivation, but as a moment in time to focus on the blessings of food and shelter. Slow down and enjoy what you are eating. Read a poem, perhaps one by George Herbert. Crack open that old, dusty copy of the Bible and read it for yourself. Go to YouTube and watch a video of someone chanting prayers, or a choir singing a beloved hymn. If you are in quarantine with someone else, ask them how they are doing, and invite them into a discussion of the important things in life.
Take time to pray.
- Let us not forget to remember those who cannot retreat to their homes, but must put themselves at risk and work.
- And so we remember the physicians, nurses, and all health care workers in hospitals and clinics.
- Let us remember the people whose labour is essential – the people in supermarkets and pharmacies, delivery services, transportation, police, and so forth.
- Let us pray for the leaders in government and bureaucracies who have the responsibility for making decision for the common good, not just the ones we support and vote for, but especially those whom we do not particularly like.
- Let us pray for children and their parents as they spent an unexpected amount of time together without the assistance of schools and daycares.
- Let us remember all who have lost their jobs, or are facing economic ruin because their sector of the economy has closed down; here in Greece we think of the tourist industry especially, and our friends who run tavernas and kafenios.
- Let us remember those who are most at risk – the disabled, the elderly, the immunity-compromised. Let us remember those who are sick at home and those who are receiving intensive care in hospitals.
- Let us pray for all those who are anxious for themselves and others, for those whose mental health programs have been shut down.
- Let us give thanks for those who have died, that they may rest in peace and rise in glory.
Today is Mothering Sunday. In England this was a day when servants were given the day off, and so they would often go home to visit their mothers. They homecoming servants might attend their “mother parish”, the place where they were baptised, and so it was also a time of reunion. While there are not too many households now that still have a staff of servants, the Church of England still commemorates Mothering Sunday with special readings, a respite from the supposed rigours of Lent. As we mark it today let us return to our homes and be reminded that the Church is there as well.
A Note on the Beloved Disciple
The Fourth Gospel, known as “The Gospel according to John” does not identify the Beloved Disciple by name, nor does the text identify the author of the gospel by name. At the very end of the gospel we are told (John 21:24) that the book was written by or based on the preaching of the Beloved Disciple. Christian tradition from the 2nd Century CE on claimed that this person was none other than John the son of Zebedee, the brother of James and a fisherman. Therefore they assumed that John wrote it, and so it became known as the Gospel according to John. Modern scholarship treats it as anonymous, despite the ancient attribution.
The late, great Biblical scholar Raymond Brown, who wrote a two volume commentary on John and a one volume commentary on the Johannine Epistles, also wrote a book called, “The Community of the Beloved Disciple“. In this book Brown reconstructed some of the characteristics of the community out of which the Gospel and the Epistles emerged. The first readers/hearers of these texts would have known who the Beloved Disciple was, but we have lost that information.
In summary, the Beloved Disciple appears to have been someone who stood apart from the inner circles of the early Christians, for he is usually described in parallel to Peter but somehow different. The stories common to the four gospels suggest a degree of common origin, but the stories that are told in John that are different from those in the synoptics (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) suggest that there was a separate development relatively early in the growth of the church. The Beloved Disciple had a community grow around him, and either he or a close disciple wrote down what he was preaching in narrative form. This was later expanded by the same person, or perhaps another, which explains why passages in John sometimes seem to come to a natural conclusion, and then start up again and discuss the same thing in a slightly different way. This led to the Gospel of John in the form we have today (we have no material evidence of this two-edition development of the gospel – this is all based on inferences from the text). Still later we read in the three Epistles of John – also all anonymous – of a split in the Community of the Beloved Disciple. Finally, the Revelation to John – which is not anonymous but written by a man named John – appears to have been written by one individual who was part of, or deeply influenced by, this Community. Since ancient times, and based on the style and fluency of the Greek, it has been felt by many that this is not the same person as the Beloved Disciple, or John the Apostle, although many have asserted just that. For that reason the author of Revelation is sometimes called “St John the Divine” to distinguish him from the Apostle.