Saint Mary the Virgin, Mother of Our Lord (Transferred), 17 August 2014
St. Luke 1:46-55
Background: Our Lady of Walsingham
Just to get you in the mood, I recommend clicking on the link to Blake’s poem known to us in the hymn Jerusalem. The connection of England to Our Lord and to his Mother goes beyond confessional or personal belief. This is most profoundly seen in the cult and image of Our Lady of Walsingham. In around 1061, Richeldis de Faverches had a vision of Mary, and built then a Holy House, which was soon a place of pilgrimage and a shrine to the Blessed Virgin Mary. In the twelfth century a priory was built there until it was suppressed during the English Reformation. In the last century there has been a revival of the pilgrimage which finds both Anglican and Roman Catholic shrines at the site. In 1922 a new statue of Our Lady of Walsingham was set us in the Anglican parish church, and regular pilgrimages followed.
I will greatly rejoice in the LORD,
my whole being shall exult in my God;
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth brings forth its shoots,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,
so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise
to spring up before all the nations.
In this passage from so-called third Isaiah we have the final verses of a section called “The Seed that YHWH blesses”. Where second Isaiah would have the whole community sing praise and blessing to God, here we have an individual who hymns that praise. It is a close connection then to the intentions of the Magnificat (see the Gospel below) where Mary sings such a hymn. The other motif, evident in verse 11, is that of the growing garden, "for as the earth brings forth its shoots.” The prophet sees salvation as a plant that “springs up” in our midst, a sign of God’s redeeming love. This melds nicely with the notion of Jesus as a “shoot of Jesse”. The closing line delimits the effect of this salvation/garden, for it is a gift that springs up, “before all the nations.”
Breaking open Isaiah:
- How is your faith like a garden?
- Are there weeds – what are the weeds?
- What has sprung up that surprises you?
Psalm 34 or 34:1-9 Benedicam Dominum
I will bless the LORD at all times; *
his praise shall ever be in my mouth.
I will glory in the LORD; *
let the humble hear and rejoice.
Proclaim with me the greatness of the LORD; *
let us exalt his Name together.
I sought the LORD, and he answered me *
and delivered me out of all my terror.
Look upon him and be radiant, *
and let not your faces be ashamed.
I called in my affliction and the LORD heard me *
and saved me from all my troubles.
The angel of the LORD encompasses those who fear him, *
and he will deliver them.
Taste and see that the LORD is good; *
happy are they who trust in him!
Fear the LORD, you that are his saints, *
for those who fear him lack nothing.
The young lions lack and suffer hunger, *
but those who seek the LORD lack nothing that is good.
Come, children, and listen to me; *
I will teach you the fear of the LORD.
Who among you loves life *
and desires long life to enjoy prosperity?
Keep your tongue from evil-speaking *
and your lips from lying words.
Turn from evil and do good; *
seek peace and pursue it.
The eyes of the LORD are upon the righteous, *
and his ears are open to their cry.
The face of the LORD is against those who do evil, *
to root out the remembrance of them from the earth.
The righteous cry, and the LORD hears them *
and delivers them from all their troubles.
The LORD is near to the brokenhearted *
and will save those whose spirits are crushed.
Many are the troubles of the righteous, *
but the LORD will deliver him out of them all.
He will keep safe all his bones; *
not one of them shall be broken.
Evil shall slay the wicked, *
and those who hate the righteous will be punished.
The LORD ransoms the life of his servants, *
and none will be punished who trust in him.
It is in the Gospel of Luke that Mary sings her song, the Magnificat, and it may be the themes of that composition that compelled the framers of the lectionary to choose this psalm for this day. In Luke’s Gospel there is a pronounced focus on the “lowly”, of which Mary sees herself a part. Here it is, oddly enough, David, who is the lowly one. The superscription gives us a clue as to why this connection is made, “For David, when he altered his good sense before Abimelech who banished him, and he went away.” One of the themes that drives the poem is the idea of “hunger” and several passages comment on it: “O taste and see that the Lord is good,” “Lions are wretched and hunger, but the Lord’s seekers lack no good.” The joining of hunger and the lowly is not only poetic but also real. It is the lowly that hunger in our world. God is seen as the one in whom the lowly one “finds shelter”. Other aspects of the Magnificat seem to find their root here, “The face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” “The Lord is near to the broken hearted.” “The Lord ransoms the life of his servants.” Rather than reflecting on the “beauty of Mary” as is evident in the lectionaries for other days honoring her, this psalm relies on God’s work done through her in her Son, Jesus Christ.
Breaking open Psalm 37:
- What do you see in the humility of others?
- Is Mary an image of humility? How?
- How is Jesus humble?
When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.
In honoring Mary on this day we come up against the truth that in Christ we are all sons of God. Like Jesus we are all “born of a woman, born under the law.” It is our adoption as children of God, however, that removes us from that state “under the Law” to a life of Christian freedom. Thus Paul makes it clear to his readers that they are no longer “slaves”, but a child and an heir – through God. Mary’s place seems minor and ordinary, until we consider the phrase, “When the fullness of time had come.” It is there that we see God’s plan and her role within that plan. Thanks be to God.
Breaking open Galatians:
- What does it mean to be “born under the Law?”
- What does it mean to be a slave?
- What does it mean to be an heir?
St. Luke 1:46-55
"My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
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 away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever."
You might want to read I Samuel 2:1-10, The Song of Hannah, to see the hymn upon which Luke may have modeled Mary’s song. Some versions of the Gospel assign this hymn to Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, and indeed, the words of Hannah’s song and her story speak well to that idea. All of the Greek manuscripts, however, attribute the song to Mary. In the hymn we see Mary’s condition as a “handmaid to the Lord.” And we begin to see Luke’s program of extolling the poor and lowly. His choice of phrases and verses from other psalms and biblical literature are selected to “lift up the lowly.” Mary’s vision sees God active not only in the present but in the future as well; as she anticipates the role her Son will play. Thus the “handmaid” becomes the mother of the “Servant,” and it is this theological understanding that will underscore Luke’s themes, and indeed Jesus’ own words. If it reaches back to the past, “the promise he made to our ancestors,” it also stretches into the future, “from now on all generations will call me blessed.”
Breaking open the Gospel:
- Whom do you know who is “lowly”?
- How has God “lifted them up?”
- How has God lifted you up?
After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:
O God, you have taken to yourself the blessed Virgin Mary, mother of your incarnate Son: Grant that we, who have been redeemed by his blood, may share with her the glory of your eternal kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Questions and comments copyright © 2014, Michael T. Hiller