August 14, 2020; St. Stephen’s, Maple
“Again I will build you, and you shall be built, O virgin Israel!”
I speak to you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen
Life has always involved struggle, on a personal and societal scale. From the struggle of the exiles in Babylon addressed by Jeremiah, to the struggle of Black and Indigenous lives here in North America, from the everyday stresses of parenting, to the challenges of staying connected in the middle of a global pandemic. We can wonder if we’ll actually make it through, wonder where our hope is to be found, be it personally or as a society. The stark Christian answer, in fact, is that on our own we aren’t up to the challenge, can’t hope to make it through.
Thankfully though, we have been given a sign of the present reality that God is faithful to complete the work in us that He began. Tomorrow’s feast has a few names attached to it, and those names can be rather contested. You may have heard of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or her “Dormition.” Historically, Anglicans have simply called it “St. Mary the Virgin,” a Holy Day commemorating just another Biblical saint alongside the rest. Whatever it’s called, all it really means is that tomorrow we celebrate this person’s entrance into eternal life.
Of course, centuries of devotion and reflection aren’t satisfied with that: there’s gotta be something special about Mary; she can’t just be another saint among the rest. After all, the sign of God’s faithfulness is that a virgin has conceived, and bore a son. And for that young girl of limited means on the margins of society, the everyday stress and struggle of parenting was infinitely multiplied. Along with the burden of giving birth and raising a vulnerable child to a healthy adulthood, this child just so happened to be the Son of God, Immanuel, and the promised Messiah of her people. Parenting is always a fearsome responsibility, but it’s fair to say that giving birth to and raising this child, had the highest of stakes. Even with Joseph’s support, Mary would be right to wonder if she would actually make it through, if the hope promised in this child would actually be realized.
But the sign we had been given was a sign of God’s faithfulness, first and foremost. The virgin miraculously conceived and bore a son. The Son grew up, preached and confronted the powers, was crucified, rose again and ascended to the Father. And throughout, Mary “treasured all these things in her heart:” was herself held by the love of God, which carried her through the trials of parenting, the horror of her Son’s crucifixion, the joy of his resurrection and the outpouring at Pentecost. And at the end of her life on earth, she was received into that eternal life promised in her son. She took up her tambourine, and now leads the “dance of the merrymakers” before God forever.
And the real thing about Mary is that what was promised to her first is promised to all of us too. She was the first to experience the completed work of God’s salvation in the son she bore, and we can follow her in the dance. If God completed the work begun in her, that task with the highest of stakes, then God can carry us through to the end of our journeys as well. Societies change, empires fall, pandemics and quarantines reveal just how vulnerable we all are. But within the struggle of crisis, we’re given an opportunity to ask ourselves: where is the overall meaning of our lives found?
For the Blessed Virgin Mary, her meaning wasn’t in her own ability to complete the task given to her, but in the one who gave her that ability to say “Yes” in the first place, the one who gave her the creativity and fortitude to be present to God in the manger and on the cross, to remain with God’s people at the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and who brought her home with him at the end. And God offers us that same creativity and endurance to continue to pray and worship, to continue to connect with each other, albeit in some new ways, and the courage to reflect God’s love in our neighbourhood and in our world.
God is faithful. The virgin conceived, and followed her son into eternal joy. Let us join in her prayer:
Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be with me—with us—according to your Word.
Thanks be to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen