Saint Mary the Virgin - 15 August 2012

Isaiah 61:10-11
Psalm 34:1-9
Galatians 4:4-7
St. Luke 1:46-56

Background: The Blessed Virgin Mary in the Anglican Churches
In popular opinion, it seems that Mary is the big divide between the so-called Protestant Churches and the Roman Catholic Church.  The truth, however, is that there is not a “protestant” consensus on Mary and her status, as she enjoys some level of devotion in some of the churches.  In the Anglican Church, at the time of the reformation, the Church of England concentrated its teachings about Mary as the Theotokos, “The Mother of God”.  All other ideas about her center on her role as the mother of Jesus.  Roman Catholic doctrines and speculations about Mary such as her role as “co-redemptrix” are not generally honored.  The devotion to Mary has had both high and low moments in the history of the English Church, ranging from an outright rejection of the historic devotions to resurgence of devotion, such as Our Lady of Walsingham. 

Isaiah 61:10-11

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.

Found in a section of Second Isaiah called the “Songs of the First Return” these verses compose a vision of the new Jerusalem.  These specific verses describe the relationship between the city and YHWH, and the words of the verses are put into the mouth of Jerusalem.  The Targum depicts the intent of these lines by introducing them with the line: “Thus says Jerusalem”.  There is an innate messianic sense of theses verses, a new sense of creation springing from this relationship of Jerusalem and God.  Thus these verses are appropriate on this day in which we celebrate Mary as the Theotokos

Breaking open Isaiah:
  1. What images come to your mind as you read these verses?
  2. How do they relate to the idea of a messianic age?
  3. How do they relate to your image of the Virgin?

Psalm 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.

Since this psalm was read last Sunday, I will reprint the commentary from that day here.  The use of the psalm on this day seems to be related to its themes of lowliness, themes which are repeated in Mary’s song, the Magnificat.  A perfect example of this theme is the verse: “I will glory in the Lord, let the humble hear and rejoice.” 

This psalm enjoys an unusual introduction that does not appear as a header to the psalm in the BCP.  The psalm is described as “for David, when he altered his good sense before Abimelech who banished him, and he went away.”  The scene which can be read in I Samuel 21:14, finds David surrounded by his Philistine enemies at the city of Gath.  In order to evade them, David plays the madman (“he altered his good sense”), and thus avoids a confrontation with the king (not Abimelech, an error by the psalm’s author, but rather Achish). The opening verses, then in this context, are quite rich, with the author, as David’s vicar, asking for God’s intervention and strength.  The psalm is an acrostic with only the letter waw missing.  The closing lines, which are not included in today’s psalm, are quite evocative of the original theme, “The Lord ransoms his servant’s lives.”

Breaking open Psalm 34:
  1. How has God defended you and come to your rescue?
  2. What was your response of thanksgiving?
  3. Have you seen God protect others?

Galatians 4:4-7

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.

Here Paul lectures the people of Galatia on the topic of Christian Freedom.  The opening line, “his son, born of a woman” seems to be the tie in to the celebrations of the day.  The verses are about the relationship that we enjoy in the freedom that comes with Christ.  The relationship with the law is abrogated through Jesus offering on the cross, and from that all other relationships fall into line: adoption as children, the relationship with “Abba, Father”, our status as heirs and children, no longer slaves. 

Breaking open Galatians:
  1. How would you describe your relationship with God?
  2. In what way is God either Father or Mother to you?
  3. What does St. Paul mean by calling us “heirs”?

Luke 1:46-55

Mary said,
"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."

This song of Mary is in some manuscripts attributed to Elizabeth, her cousin.  Such an attribution makes sense in that the song is sung at the Visitation (31 May) of Mary to Elizabeth, and the composition’s dependence on the Song of Hannah (I Samuel 2:1-10) and the similarities of Hannah and Elizabeth, both being depicted as childless and having the gift of a miraculous son. 

The actual song is a collection of phrases and themes from other biblical poetry.  It does express, however, dramatic themes from the Gospel of Luke.  Primary in these themes is the notion of “lowliness”.  Luke depicts Jesus’ mission and message to the lowly, and they occupy a central place in Lucan theology.  Mary mirrors that not only in her own state but also in that of others.  Lines such as “he has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly” demonstrate not only Mary’s emotion and concern in the song, but Luke, and therefore Jesus’ concern as well.

Breaking open the Gospel:

  1. When Luke talks about the lowly, who comes to your mind?
  2. How is Mary both the lowly and the exalted?
  3. What early traditions in the Hebrew Scriptures do these verses call to mind?

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.


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