Advent 3 – Mary and the mothers of God


Iona abbey

Tuesday was bright and beautiful, if a little bracing for the walk, round Littlewick green with Finn, our border terriorist. It was a fitting day for a walk, for the 2 years we spent on Iona every Tuesday was pilgrimage day, and Pete and I often took sometimes as many as 90 guests and visitors on a 7 mile walk round the island, with stopping places to learn of the history and spirituality of the place, to pray and to sing, to walk together and have conversations on the way….I loved it

Gathering at ST Martin’s cross for pilgrimage


We would gather outside the 13 century Abbey and monastic buildings, by a standing cross that has stood there for over 1200 years. We would speak of Columba’s arrival on the island in 563, within a hundred years there were 300 monks living there plus many families to help cater for everyone. With Viking raids from CE 800, numbers dwindled until 1200 when the local Lord of the Isles, Reginald, invited the Benedictines in and built them a monastery, on the footprint of which the rebuilding happened over the last 75 years.



At the same time, Reginald built a nunnery just down the road, for his sister Bethoc, or Beatrice. That is stop number 2 on the pilgrimage and we ask pilgrims to comment on the difference between the 2 sites, one warm and snug the other minus a roof. More significantly we know the name of every Abbot that lived and worked on Iona over 400 years, the nunnery is just as ancient perhaps more involved with the community being in the centre of the village, with a school and a hospital…. but we know the names of only 2 of the nuns, Beatrice, for whom it was built, from the wealthiest family in the area and Anna Maclean, well she had a beautiful gravestone, unusually with her name,carved. No other names are known . So we stand in the ruins and remember how often history is written by the rich, the successful,  the powerful…… the men

And it is not much different in our church. I remember taking Jo,to Durham cathedral with friend Judy and her son  James. There is a plaque on the wall listing all the  bishops of Durham, for a thousand years. James counted how many times his name James appeared while Jo, aged 5 commented there are no Jos, silence, then “Mummy there are no girls names”.

The lectionary we still use misses out so many of the amazing women of scripture: Most of us will know about Nathan the prophet who made David see the error of his ways with Bathsheba, but who has heard of Rizpah, whose silent witness brought David to his knees over the slaughter of some of the sons of Saul, read about Rizpah in  2 Samuel 3 and 21. Or what about the story of Moses, all of it included in the lectionary readings except Shiphrah and Puah the 2 midwives who took enormous risk defying Pharaoh and saving Moses when he was born. Through history, secular and religious the voices of women have often been silent, unheard

We come to today, when many churches remember Mary, third Sunday of advent, the pink Sunday but the lectionary readings are more about John the Baptist and looking forward to Jesus coming. I have been very confused trying to write a sermon!

Back to Iona, Most weeks in the Nunnery we would invite people to shout out the names of women who have nourished and encouraged them on their life journey…let us do that now. Who are the women who have inspired you….let this church ring with the names of faithful inspiring women….

I wonder just what those women did or said or were that caused you to remember them and be thankful…we will return to that

Shadow pregnancy


Do you remember a painting Sue Batchelor did in the early nineties,  through Advent it was on the wall by the entrance to school, a life size shadow silhouette picture of Jane Cooper heavily pregnant with Nathan, (who is now a qualified accountant taking time off, travelling through South America). A reminder of Mary , pregnant, Mary  our Orthodox friends still refer to her as Theotokos God bearer. Churches have argued over Mary for centuries too. Our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters have always understood that some people need to approach God through the feminine and Mary has been their aid. Us protestants thought it sounded too much like making Mary a God herself

My friends it may surprise you to know but God is not a man, is not male. Becoming human could not involve being male and female, so Jesus was male but he had to be carried in the womb of a woman, was it a chance to redeem the image of Eve? But , and I hope you will all agree, Jesus’ maleness does not mean he only saves men.

In 1984 in New York cathedral Edwina Sandys sculpture of Christ as a naked woman with a crown of thorns on a cross was displayed very publicly, midst great outcry.

Sandys Crucified Christ


Paul invites women as well as men to imitate him just as he imitates Christ, disciples are called to represent Christ in their own communities, is this not what Edwina was trying to do. 450  years ago Teresa of Avila, said the same thing

Teresa of Avila (1515–1582)

Christ Has No Body

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,

Mary had to consent to carry the Christ child, with little understanding, to carry, to give birth to, to nurse, to raise the Son of God, to take part in a plan she did not choose, with no script and no guarantees. Nothing less is asked of us today…will we smuggle God into the world inside our own bodies today

Emmaus by Emmanuel Garibay


The artist Emmanuel Garibay expressed this in her picture Emmaus, I love this woman in her sexy dress, hands bearing the imprint of the nails from the cross, she is being Jesus to these men, where? In a night club, midst laughter and fun and a beer

We are called to  bear Christ in the world today

Each of us is made in the image of God, we bear the image of God to one another.

Can we return to those names we spoke out earlier…what was it about those women that inspired or encouraged or supported you. A real question….

In our gospel reading we heard John described as one who bears witness to the light. Not many of us consider ourselves to be evangelists,  worried that we could not debate and win against Richard Dawkins. But you know you do not need to have a degree in theology to talk about God indeed it is probably better if you do not have, people are more likely to understand you…but we are all called to speak of what we know, bear witness to the spark of light we have seen, share the image of God within us, bear the Christ into the world as Mary did. And listen to what has inspired you, not necessarily great world changing acts, often small may be a smile, a hand to hold, company in a dark night in all these daily little things we can bear Christ to and bear witness to Christ to others, and of course receive from Christ through one another

Annunciation Fra Angelico


Perhaps it helps to replace this famous and beautiful image of the angel announcing to Mary she is to bear a son, by Fra Angelico, we need to replace that with something like this by Raphael Soyer

Annunciation Raphael Soyer


Meister Eckhart the 13th century mystic

We are all meant to be mothers of God – what good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly but does not take place within myself. And what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace. What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his son if I do not also give birth to him in my time and my culture. This, then is the fullness of time, when the son of God is begotten in us. Greetings, favoured ones. The Lord is with you. Do not be afraid, for nothing will be impossible with God.