15 August 2010
10.30 am Holy Communion Woodchurch
Feast of the Assumption of the BVM
Heavenly Father, may the words of my lips reflect something of your written word and so lead us ever closer to your living Word, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Today the church celebrates a very special person not only in the life of the church, but in the life of Jesus himself. Today is the feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary and this morning I want us to reflect a little on this person who played such an important role in the story of God’s relationship to his chosen people.
But first I have a suspicion and I have a theory. My suspicion is that as soon as I mentioned that we are celebrating the Blessed Virgin Mary today that a number of people in this congregation gave something of an inward or perhaps even an outward groan and thought or maybe even muttered something along the lines of “What is all this Popish nonsense talking about Mary”. I won’t ask for a show of hands, but I certainly know from speaking to my fellow curates that there is a huge reluctance in many churches to speak very much about St Mary on the basis that this is seen as a very “Roman Catholic” subject that anyone from the reformed tradition should avoid for fear of causing irreparable shock to the congregation.
My theory is that this reluctance to speak or to think very much about Jesus’ mother, except perhaps once a year when we put a blue sheet on a primary school child in the nativity play, arises from the perceived excesses of the veneration of Mary that went on at the time of the reformation, and which helped to fuel the drive to reformation itself, particularly in Europe, and which can still be seen to some extent in the mass pilgrimages to sites in which Mary is said to have appeared. The reformed tradition prided itself as being literate, biblical and rational and dispensed with Marian veneration and all its trappings presumably on the basis that it did not fulfil any of those criteria.
However, in distancing ourselves from that type of spirituality or perhaps even defining ourselves as Christian who ‘don’t do that sort of thing’ my fear, if you will forgive the terrible cliché, is that we have thrown the baby out with the bathwater. We have become so frightened of being associated with all the trappings of Mariology that we have actually become a little frightened of thinking about or talking about Mary herself. But if that is the case, and I always admit that I may be wide of the mark and it may have no concerns for you at all, that we are at risk of losing something very important to ourselves and our own spiritual journey to God.
Now you may ask, “What possible importance could Mary have in relation to my spiritual journey to God? Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Light and I need no other, thank you very much.” And of course, on a very minimalist basis you would be right, but consider this for a moment.
One of the central tenants of Christianity is that Jesus is both fully divine and fully human. We talk about Jesus being the Son of God so frequently and so easily that it trips off the tongue and we sometimes also remember that Jesus was also the Son of Man, or a human being. But how often do we think of Jesus not as the Son of God or as the Son of Man but as the Son of Mary? Perhaps we do at Christmas but, to be honest, most nativity plays are, thankfully, short of realism and there is little real sense that Mary has given birth to Jesus and even less sense that this same person will feed, clean and look after this baby on their dangerous flight to Egypt to escape Herod’s slaughter of the innocents, that on their return to Israel she will continue to raise him through childhood, adolescence and onto adulthood, that she will suffer the indignity of not being able to get near Jesus when she tried to see him on at least one occasion during his ministry, that she will sit at the foot of the cross and watch her son die when nearly all his followers had fled. Mary suffered then as only a mother can suffer. Yes, Jesus was divine and his divinity comes from God, and from being part of the Trinitarian God himself, but Jesus was also human, one of us, and his humanity came from his mother Mary – Mary was humanity’s link with the humanity of Jesus.
But if we take both Jesus’ humanity and his divinity seriously then we should also remember that Mary was chosen by God the Father to give birth to God the Son. In Greek Mary is often called the Theotokis or God Bearer and in the Rosary prayer she is called the Mother of God. Whilst that may cause some uneasiness at the whiffs of Popary the theology is completely sound – Jesus is the Son of Mary, Jesus is God the Son, Mary is the Mother of God the Son.
By any measure the Mother of God should feature in our faith and we should not be embarrassed that the Virgin Mary is part of our story. God the Father choose her to bear and to raise God the Son and her response to God of “May be unto my according to your will” is one that she passed onto Jesus as we see from the prayer that he taught us and one that we would do well to take to heart in every aspect of our lives.
But it would be wrong to see Mary as purely submissive. The song of Mary, the Magificat that was today’s reading from Luke and which we sing at every evensong, is not a song of quiet submissiveness but is one of exuberant joy:
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.”
How wonderful both to magnify the Lord and to rejoice in God – what a soul to be so alive to the love and blessing of God.
But there is also an element of subversiveness, a recognition that what God is doing through her will upset the status quo and will turn accepted values and norms of society upside down:
“…he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich empty away.”
Over the years and at various times and places Christianity has been the faith of the wealthy and the powerful but that is changing. The biggest growth area for Christianity is in Africa and in Asia where converts to Christianity are often the poorest and are often persecuted for their faith. They would recognise the power behind the song of Mary, they would recognise that by joining himself to humanity through the person of this poor girl God is doing something new and radical and for us to recapture something of that radical ness may revitalise something important about our faith.
So, what are we to make of all this? As always there is much more that could be said but I hope we can draw some important lessons from today’s feast.
First: We should not be afraid of Mary. We should liberate her from the confines of the nativity play and recognise her as a fellow human being but one who was chosen by God to give birth to God. She is the God Bearer, the Mother of God and without her our story would be very different.
Second: we can learn a great deal from Mary’s openness to the will of God – Mary’s yes to God doubtless played its part in Jesus’ yes to God and I have no doubt that if each of us as Christians and as a Church opened ourselves to do God’s will regardless of the potential for pain then we would truly be the body of Christ here on earth;
Finally: as we open ourselves to the will of God and recognise what he has done for us and what he can do for all those who find themselves on the margins of polite society we can make the joy of the magificat our joy:
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.”