A sermon for the sixth Sunday of Easter

In today’s gospel, Jesus is talking about the time when he will no longer be physically on Earth, and he says he’ll send the Advocate, the comforter, in his place. He’ll send the Holy Spirit to teach, and guide, and comfort, and strengthen his people on Earth.

And there’s one phrase that really jumped out at me: “I will not leave you orphaned.” Not just I will not leave you alone, but I will not leave you orphaned, as if he were a parent to us.

And that reminded me of some of the writing of Julian of Norwich, whose feast day actually was last week. Do you know anything about Julian of Norwich, anybody? No? Okay, great. So I won’t be telling you something you already know.

Julian of Norwich was a woman who lived in the 14th century, and she lived in the city of Norwich, which at that time was the second-largest city in England after London. It’s about a hundred miles northeast of London, not quite as far as the North Sea. It had a cathedral, and it had many churches—fifty-some churches—and 35 or so of those churches had something that was called an anchorite.

Now an anchorite is kind of a hermit. It’s a person who spends their life in a small, simple room that’s attached to a church, and there’s a window into the church so that person can see and participate in church services, and there’s also a window through which someone can them food and whatever they need, and also people could come to that window for spiritual counsel.

So we don’t know actually know very much about Julian, and we probably wouldn’t know anything about her if she hadn’t written a book called Showings, or Revelations of Divine Love. It’s one of the first things to be written in the English language. She’s believed to be the first woman to write a book in English, and by her writing we know that she was somewhat educated and presumably well off, and that’s about all we know.

Julian is famous for the phrase, which you might have heard, “All will be well and all will be well and all manner of things will be well.” But one of the most interesting things about her was that she had a concept of Jesus as our mother. She knew God the Father, she knew the Holy Spirit, and she thought of Jesus as our mother.

When she was 30 years old, Julian was very, very seriously ill, and it was thought that she would die. She herself thought that she would die, but she didn’t. And during that time she had a vision of Jesus on the cross. There was a crucifix in her room and that Jesus moved, and changed, and spoke. And she spent many years reflecting on that vision and trying to gather the deepest meaning she could out of it, and that’s what her book is about.

She talks about seeing the whole world in a little hazelnut, and understanding God holding it, and understand God’s love for it. She talks a lot about love and, as I said, she talks about the motherhood of Jesus, Jesus as our true mother.

What she means by that is that life comes from Jesus, all life. Beginning with creation. We talk about God creating the world through Jesus, this beautiful world we celebrate on Rogation Sunday. She sees also that life comes to us through Redemption, through what Jesus did on the cross. So Jesus is our true mother, the source of life.

She talks about how when we trip, when we fall, when we hurt—when we soil ourselves, she says, and are ashamed—there she’s talking about sin—we run like a small child to Jesus, who gatherers us in his arms like a mother and makes it all better. I was reading a lecture by a scholarly expert on Julian of Norwich[i] who said, so basically her concept of sin is dirty diapers. You go to mother, and mother will clean you, and mother will make you better, and mother will love you, and mother will hold you in her arms.

During the lifetime of Julian, the Black Death swept through England three times, and that was a pandemic unlike anything that we’ve known. Death came quickly, death came in three days, and large numbers of the population were wiped out. It was a terrible, terrible time. There’s another scholar[ii] who thinks that what Julian was offering really was pastoral care to a grieving nation, to a grieving people. Pastoral care in a sense of reassuring people that even considering the deep grief they felt at the losses, the loss of people they loved, Jesus was there saying, “All will be well, all will be well.”

And I think that message is so appropriate to us here, we’ve had a lot of loss in this congregation in the last year or so, year and a half, a lot of loss, and we need that message of comfort, that reassurance that all will be well.

Our faith is both a comfort and a challenge, and sometimes I know I preach mostly the challenge part. There’s a famous quote which actually refers to newspapers, to journalism, which says that their purpose is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Which applies perfectly to the Gospel, right? That’s the purpose of the Gospel: to comfort the afflicted, and to afflict the comfortable.

How are we too comfortable? How are we taking things for granted? What does this message of Jesus really mean? How are we to live? What are we missing in the way that we are living, compared to the way we should be living?

I know that’s my message on a lot of Sundays, that’s what I look for in the Gospel. I think when hear the Gospel, there are a couple of things we should always be looking for. One is, what is does it tell us about God, the nature of God? And another is, what does it tell us about how we should live?

But sometimes it’s okay just to take comfort, just to look for comfort in the word of God.

Jesus says, “I will not leave you orphaned.” I won’t leave you alone. I won’t leave you without help. I’m sending the Holy Spirit.  And Julian says, Jesus is our true mother, and we run to that mother for comfort, and to be held in those loving arms.

And sometimes, maybe today especially, that’s the message that we need to take away: all will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.


Preached at St. James the Greater Episcopal Church, Bristol, Pa.

[i] Karen Jo Torjesen. “Jesus as Mother: Crossroads Between Christology, Anthropology and Gender,” https://www.bu.edu/shaw/events/women-in-the-world-conference/past_women-in-the-world/women-in-the-world/jesus-as-mother/. Jan. 28, 1997, accessed May 13, 2023.

[ii] Cited op cit.