Sermon by Canon Adrian Ling CMP, 16th August
Readings: Revelation 11:19,12:1-6,10; 1 Corinthians 15:20-26; Luke 1:39-56
The quintessential Jewish mother, as described by Jewish sons, is a formidable woman. She idolizes her sons, but has high expectations of them. She is the matriarch running the family, and any new daughter-in-law will find it hard to match up to her exacting standards. One Jewish man finally meets the girl of his dreams and gets engaged. And he tells his mother he’s going to bring three women to the house and she must guess which one is his intended. So he introduces the three women and his mother immediately picks out the brunette as his fiancée. 'How did you know?' asked the son. 'I don’t like her,' his mother replied.
Mary was a Jewish mother. And yet we know relatively little about her personality. After proclaiming the Magnificat, we only hear her speak at the Wedding of Cana, when she tells the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them. Apart from that she is silent in the gospels. Did she boast about her son, the charismatic rabbi, to her friends down at the market? Or did she share disappointment with those same friends lamenting that Jesus would not carry on his father’s trade, or settle down with the right woman and raise a family? We do not know and it does not matter.
Mary’s supreme life’s work was achieved at a young age in being the willing participant in God’s plan for salvation, conceiving Jesus by the Holy Spirit and giving birth to him. Everything else was incidental. What was most important about Mary was her obedience to God’s will. The role she played was so vitally important that she was to be held in the highest honour for all time. ‘Behold from henceforth, all generations shall call me blessed,’ she expressed in the Magnificat. And indeed we have, in the Hail Mary prayer, recited countless millions of times around the world and through the centuries. ‘Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus.’
Remembering that Mary was a Jewish mother might be the antidote to some of the rather sacharine representations of the Virgin Mary. This Jewish mother will not laden us with guilt for what we have failed to do, she will not scold us for what we have done wrong. But she might look on at what we do with a sad silence of disappointment, that we know means disapproval. I once took a friend to Walsingham for the first time and as he sat in the Holy House, he looked at the image of the Virgin Mary and perceived a frown in her expression. As he sat there, he thought about his life and some of his sins and began to feel sorry for them. When he looked again at her again, before he left, he thought he saw not a frown but the hint of a smile on the face of the virgin.
The posthumous life of the Virgin Mary is so much more extensive than her life in this world. Her ongoing life is shown by her appearance at places like Walsingham, Lourdes, Fatima and Knock and many more places around the world. She who received the angel’s message is now herself the messenger, drawing our attention to her son. These shrines honour her visits. There is, of course, no shrine that contains her body, because it is the tradition of the church that she was assumed body and soul into heaven when she died; that where her risen son had led, so she followed. God would not let the body of the Virgin Mary, his chosen instrument of salvation, know decay. As an ancient author states: 'Being the most glorious Mother of Christ our saviour and our God, the giver of life and immortality, she is given life by him and shares bodily incorruptibility for all eternity with him who raised her from the grave and drew her up to him in a way that only he can understand.'
And now where she has led, following her son, we are given hope to follow. The Feast of the Assumption is the confirmation of the Easter hope. As St Paul says, the risen Christ offers hope to all of eternal life, beginning with the Virgin Mary and extending to all of us and those who will come after us. Through the risen Christ and his raised mother Mary, we too can have high hopes.
Mary is in heaven; heaven is where God is and God is everywhere, so Mary can be everywhere too. We do not pray to Mary, but we ask Mary to pray for us, as we might ask any holy person. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. We believe in the constant presence with us of Christ, we can also trust in the constant prayer of Mary, and we can be assured that when our time on this earth draws to a close, whether it is expected or unexpected, whether we are prepared or unprepared, Mary will be praying, as she prays constantly, for all who have become her children.