Saint Mary Virgin, Mother of Our Lord, 15 August 2017

Isaiah 61:10-11
Psalm 34:1-9
Galatians 4:4-7
St. Luke 1:46-55


Background: The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Even amongst the members of the Anglican Communion there are a variety of views on this feast day. We can see that in the variety of names by which the day is called. In the Church of England the festival is called “The Falling Asleep of the Blessed Virgin Mary” thus mirroring the Orthodox nomenclature. Scotland and Canada honor the day as a commemoration also calling it “The Falling Asleep of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In the Episcopal Church in the USA it is celebrated as a holy day, “Saint Mary the Virgin, Mother of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Amongst Anglo-Catholics, the day is observed as the Assumption, and the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission see the day as both the Dormition (the Falling Asleep) and the Assumption. The doctrine of the Assumption was adopted by Roman Catholics in 1 November 1950 by Pope Pius XII.

First Reading: 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.

What this Isaiah sees as an individual’s response to the saving actions of God on behalf of the whole community. The restoration of what was ruined is a turn around of God’s judgment of Israel which is now redeemed. Returning from exile and coming back to rebuild the “ancient ruins” the community becomes a society of the saved. Thus it is appropriate to assign this reading to Mary’s Day, and even more possible to see these words emerging from her mouth of praise. Her song, the Magnificat, seems to echo the words of verse 10. She is not only the representative of the saved community, but also the bearer of its Redeemer.

Breaking open Isaiah:
1.          What kind of joy do you have as an individual?
2.          Where is there joy in your community of faith?
3.          Who knows about your joy?

Psalm 34:1-9 Benedicam Dominum

     I will bless the Lord at all times; *
his praise shall ever be in my mouth.
2      I will glory in the Lord; *
let the humble hear and rejoice.
3      Proclaim with me the greatness of the Lord; *
let us exalt his Name together.
4      I sought the Lord, and he answered me *
and delivered me out of all my terror.
5      Look upon him and be radiant, *
and let not your faces be ashamed.
6      I called in my affliction and the Lord heard me *
and saved me from all my troubles.
7      The angel of the Lord encompasses those who fear him, *
and he will deliver them.
8      Taste and see that the Lord is good; *
happy are they who trust in him!
9      Fear the Lord, you that are his saints, *
for those who fear him lack nothing.

This psalm reflects the words of David who, as the initial verses explain[1], is in dire circumstances. Even in distress David is praising God. The appropriateness of these verses from the psalm, are seen in their foreshadowing of Mary’s song in the Magnificat. Words of deliverance, exaltation, and closeness with those who are humble seem to prepare us for Mary’s recognition of these acts by God in her own life. Of special interest is the verse, which proclaims, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” In the Magnificat we hear “He fills the hungry with good things.”

Breaking open Psalm 34:
1.     What is David’s joy?
2.     What might the poor have joy in?
3.    What does it mean that the Lord “tastes good”?

Second Reading: 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.

The Law is many things for Paul and it takes on several guises in his writing. Here the Law is a teacher, and the lessons are about how Christians move from slavery to freedom. It is really about the various progressions that we make in life. Here, in these verses, we follow the Christian from slavery to the Law to life as an adopted child of the heavenly Father. Even more so, the Christian is an heir – the first-born – set to receive all the gifts of inherited grace. All of this comes from the one “born of a woman.”

Breaking open Galatians:
1.     How is God a parent to you?
2.     Where in your life is there enslavement?
3.    Where in your life is liberation?

The Gospel: St. 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."

Here we have Mary’s song, the Magnificat. The passages of the song bear an amazing resemblance to Hannah’s song in I Samuel (2:1-10), and thus serves as a connection to the promises of the Covenant that will be made real in the birth of Christ. It is especially powerful in Luke’s vision of God’s plan made perfect among and with the lowly – here in the person of Mary. Mary recognizes it as well in the verses of her song, which elevate the lowly, and put down the mighty.  We have images in the Scriptures of Mary as the thoughtful and contemplative one. She ponders, she worries, she beseeches. Here she is blessed (read happy) for in God’s attitude toward her she sees God’s redeeming attitude toward the many. It is the promise made real not on in her own life (just like what happened to Hannah), but in the lives of so many others as well. Abraham and Sarah’s family grows in the sunshine of God’s promises and goodwill.

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.     How do you magnify the Lord?
2.     Why?
3.    For what are you grateful?

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 © 2017, Michael T. Hiller

[1]  “For David, when he altered his good sense (feigned madness) before Abimelech, who banished him, and he went away.”


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