theunfamiliarname

Homily for the Assumption (The Blessed Virgin Mary) 2010

In Uncategorized on August 15, 2010 at 11:00 pm

I found myself on this day last year
at St Michael and All Angels’, Christchurch,
the most “high church” and Catholic
of Anglican parishes in this country,
where most Sundays was prayed a prayer
not usually associated with middle Anglicanism:

Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with you.
Blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners
now and at the hour of our death.

And I was forced to do some workto decide what I made of that.
It hadn’t previously been part of my tradition.

It is a prayer at least a thousand years old,
and carries with it much popular preconception –
visions of confessionals and priests
prescribing its recitation as a doctor might aspirin.

But it is also a prayer which combines
Scripture, intimacy, and hope.

The figure of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of our Lord,
has always been important to the Church.
Protestants, however,
have been known to express discomfort or disquiet.

As part of a tradition that is both Protestant and Catholic,
what are we to make of this day,
and of this key figure in the story of our salvation?

In the figure of Mary we meet both humility,
but also the honouring of one woman, called to respond
to Gabriel’s greeting and invitation to say “yes” to God.

That Mary does emphatically
in the words of the Magnificat we’ve just heard.
Mary captures the vision of God in that song of praise & hope.
She agrees with God, and becomes – as a mother must be – active and engaged, rather than passive and demur.

Her words are words of justice and change
and the transformation of the world,
the coming of the Kingdom.

There is a reason she was chosen to bear the Christ.

Mary stands
not just as saintly inspiration,
one among many,
but as the one entrusted with the very
bearing into the world of Emmanuel, God-with-us,
his care and nurture, in this
ridiculously vulnerable expression of God’s love for us.

Mary, Mother of our Lord is vitally important to our faith, yours and mine,
because she
– in the language of the Eastern Church –
is Theotokos, God-bearer.
She is a yes to God’s invitation,
and an active accomplice in agreeing with God.

The Blessed Virgin Mary is not
some passive channel for God entering the world,
rather an active participant in liberation,
holding before us
– as in so many ikons and depictions –
the Christchild.

Holding him,
having endured the struggle and danger of birth.
Holding before us her own questions
about who this Jesus is, as he grows
and she ponders in her heart what all this means.
Holding before us the broken body of her son
at the foot of the cross.

Holding before us in life and in death
what it means to bear God into the world.
Well me might ask her to teach us, to pray with us and for us
in companionship with all who now know God’s presence,
in our living and our dying,
as we seek in much less literal but equally vital ways
to bear Christ into the world.

Mary, bearer of Jesus,
is the pattern for what we might be in our time,
a “yes” to God’s invitation.
Bearers of God through struggle and joy
and questioning and pain to a world
which needs the liberating Good News of the Incarnation.

In celebration of her witness, and in hope of spring,
the medieval mystic Hildegard of Bingen
wrote and sang these words:
O greenest branch, I greet you,
you who budded in the winds
of the questioning of the saints.
The time came for you to blossom in your branches,
I salute you!
The sun’s heat distilled in you the fragrance of balsam.
For in you bloomed the beautiful flower
which gave fragrance to all the dried out spices.
And they all burgeoned in their strength and greenness.

Let us use this celebration as an occasion of renewal,
filled – like the Hail Mary prayer –
with Scripture, intimacy and hope.

Viewed another way,
the promise, the presence and the practise
of our faith.

By our ongoing “yes” and enactment,
making real the bearing of Christ into our community.

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