Bible Readings: Luke 2:25-35 & Job 31:16-23

Pierced

A sword will pierce your own soul too. It’s not exactly the kind of thing that you’re likely to find in a lovely Hallmark Mothering Sunday card is it? It’s the not what you’d expect to hear at a Christening party either. A sword will pierce your own soul too.

It had all been going so well. The young family had had a couple of days to settle in from the excitement of the journey down to Bethlehem, the night of the birth surrounded by the animals, the visit of the shepherds with tales of angels. Mary getting into used to having a newborn – feeding, changing, sleeping. Joseph starting to get his head around what it might mean to be the earthly father of a son that wasn’t his physical son. Then it was time for Jesus to be taken to the temple, to fulfil the requirements of the God’s law. So the little family make the trip to Jerusalem, to the temple, and sacrifice a pair of doves as they present their precious, first born son, to God. It is a time of celebration, rejoicing, thanksgiving. It’s all going so well.

As they headed into the temple, they had no idea that there was somebody waiting for them. Actually, the person waiting didn’t know that he was waiting for them, he just knew that God had promised him that he would see the Messiah before he died, so he was waiting for that. Somehow he knew it when he saw it, and he saw it in Jesus. Simeon saw God’s chosen one, the one God had sent to save the people from their sins, to bring in the Kingdom of God, the rule and reign of God on earth. Simeon saw all this, in this tiny baby and was overwhelmed with praise. This little child is the salvation that God has prepared, he is the light to all people, Jews and Gentiles alike. By him all will be able to see the love and compassion of God. It’s all going so well.

Mary and Joseph are amazed. And, by now, I would have thought it would take quite a lot to make these two marvel. They’ve both seen and been talked to by angels. They’ve experienced a baby being supernaturally conceived. There’s been a choir of angels on the hillside on the night of his birth. But it does seem, that despite all this, they still hadn’t really quite got the significance of the child that had been entrusted to them. So they marvel at Simeon’s words.

But Simeon hasn’t finished. He has seen a glimpse of the future and he knows that it is not going to be an easy one. He knows that the road Jesus is going to walk is going to be a lonely and dark one at times. He knows that the message that Jesus brings is going to excite opposition. Jesus is bringing light, and those who operate in darkness will resist the shining of the light. Jesus is coming to free the captive, heal the sick, stand up for those who are oppressed, invite those on the margins to come closer. This will not be in the interests of the rich and powerful who are doing the oppressing, who enjoy being at the centre of things, and who despise those on the edges. Jesus is here to relieve suffering, and he will only be able to do that by receiving suffering. It will cost him everything, it will cost him his life, it will cost him the cross.

Simeon glimpses some of this in Jesus’ future, and is wise enough to know that when someone you love goes through these kinds of experiences, then it will cause you pain as well. When someone we love suffers, we also suffer.

A sword will pierce your own soul too.

As Jesus’ ministry continues we see this prophecy come true. When Jesus is twelve he’s back in the temple, debating with the religious leaders, and his mum and dad lose track of him, they don’t know where he is. They search for him for three days. Can you imagine searching for a lost child for three days? Anxious, worried, concerned. A pierced soul? Then, later on, when Jesus is an adult, out and about in ministry there are family misunderstandings and fallings out. His brothers try and tell him what he ought to do, the family think Jesus has gone mad and go and attempt to force him to come home. Piercing Mary’s soul? And finally, of course, there’s Jesus’ death. Watching her son – betrayed, beaten, bleeding, hanging, dying. A soul pierced.

But, the story doesn’t end there. There is another chapter. There is the chapter of resurrection and ascension. Jesus was raised to life, he does bring healing, he is in heaven now, and his Kingdom is coming in all its fulness. Pierced hearts are being made whole, are being restored, are being healed.

On Mothering Sunday we want to celebrate all that is good about mothering. There is much that many of us are grateful for in the mothering that we’ve received, and in the mothering that we are privileged to give. People who have loved us, cared for us, taught us, embraced us, valued us. People that we have loved, cared for, taught, embraced, valued.

We also want to be real, that for some of us, there have also been things associated with mothering that have pierced our souls, have hurt us and caused us pain. God doesn’t want us to pretend that it’s all OK when it’s not.

Choosing to love is choosing to make ourselves vulnerable, it opens us up to the possibility, even the likelihood, of being hurt, either because our love is rejected or because the person we love is hurting.

Through Lent we’ve been exploring some themes that are brought to the surface when people are thinking about adoption or fostering. One of those themes is the idea that sometimes we are called to receive suffering in order to relieve suffering. We’ve touched on the Biblical basis of this idea already this morning. The greatest example of this principle is Jesus, who chose the road to Calvary which led to deep suffering for him. The physical suffering of being tortured to death. The psychological suffering of being betrayed and deserted. The spiritual suffering of being separated from God. Jesus chose all this suffering, he received this suffering, so that our suffering could be relieved, so that we could be forgiven, healed, restored.

In his letter to the Christians in the city of Colossae, the apostle Paul writes something that at first reading sounds a bit strange,

“Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.”

What can Paul mean, “what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions?” How can there be anything lacking in what Jesus did on the cross? We know that they are all that is needed for our forgiveness and salvation. We know that they are sufficient for our ultimate healing and wholeness. We know that they completely restore our relationship with God. How can there be anything lacking?

What is lacking is Jesus actual, bodily presence, here on earth now. Not that that is actually lacking either. We are the body of Christ now. We are Jesus’ bodily presence here on earth now. And we are to live as Jesus did, following his example, inspired by the Holy Spirit.
And so, there are situations in which we are called to receive suffering in order to relieve suffering.

This might mean choosing to adopt or foster a child who has been traumatised and is suffering. A child whose suffering can only be relieved by someone choosing to love them, and choosing to absorb the pain of their soul being pierced. It might mean making other choices to get close to those who are suffering, lonely, isolated, or vulnerable.

Choosing to care for the vulnerable is not an easy path, and there are no guarantees. Job found that out. As we heard in our Old Testament reading, Job was someone who did this, who received people’s suffering, who relieved people’s suffering. He looked after the widows, the fatherless, the poor. He clothed those who had no clothing, he stood up for those with no voice. He was a good guy, who feared and worshipped God, and his worship found practical expression in his care for the least and the lost. Despite all this, he suffered massive loss. He used to have a large family, significant wealth, a good reputation, but he lost it all as God allowed Satan to afflict him, to tempt him to turn his back on God. His friends come to comfort him but end up accusing him of having sinned, of having brought this suffering on his own head.

The passage we’ve read this morning is part of Job’s defence. He doesn’t understand why he’s suffering, he’s done everything right. He doesn’t curse God, or turn his back on God, as he is being tempted to do, but he does have some questions for God. How can this be? Where is the justice? What have I done wrong? In the end God responds to Job, not with answers but with questions that reveal the breadth and depth of God’s sovereignty and wisdom. Job comes to see himself and the suffering and loss he’s been through as things that he can’t understand but despite this he chooses to continue to trusting God. In the end what Job had lost is restored to him, in a kind of fore shadowing of the resurrection, Job receives new life – family, wealth, reputation, blessing from God.

Doing the right thing, living well, caring for the vulnerable, putting ourselves in a position to have our heart pierced, choosing to receive suffering to relieve suffering, does not mean that things will always go well for us in this world. We still live in a broken world, in which we cannot understand everything that happens. But, as we choose to do these things, as we choose to trust God, so we are storing up for ourselves treasures in heaven, so we are bringing the kingdom closer.

Because there is a new chapter still to come. There is a chapter of resurrection, new life, restoration, and a coming Kingdom in which all tears will be wiped away, all pierced hearts healed, and in which we can all live in our forever family with our heavenly Father.

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