Cross-posted from Shreds and Patches
While among Christians Jesus has escaped his detractors, his mother still carries the weight of human detraction, or perhaps worse still types of adoration that rob her of her humanity.
After a sermon on her Feast Day, the bishop was assailed by an angry parishioner who scolded him for preaching about Mary. The bishop replied, “Sir, it seems that when you speak of Mary you are remembering a deceased Roman Catholic lay woman. When I speak of her I speak of the Mother of God.”
There’s another adage that is perhaps more to the point. “If you are not a Marian, you are probably an Arian.” The Arians denied that Jesus was, in the womb, truly God and truly human. More of that in a moment.
While many Anglicans flinch at what they conceive to be the extravagance of devotion given to St. Mary, a more modern objection has its adherents. These people believe that Mary’s meek submission to the will of God demeans all women. Mary describes herself as the handmaiden of the Lord and submits to God’s will. To some this seems to re-enforce the stereotype of male domination and female submission. So poor Mary continues to be ignored, chided for the extravagance of devotion offered to her, or decried as being an anti-feminist.
The Prayer Book of 1662 described August 15 as the Feast of the Falling Asleep of the Blessed Virgin Mary. When the Episcopal Church compiled its own Prayer Book at the end of the 18th Century the Feast disappeared. It returns in our present Prayer Book as “The Feast of St. Mary the Virgin.” The collect refers to her being taken into heaven. This reflects the pious belief of Christians through the ages who acknowledge the crucial role Mary plays in God’s action in our redemption.
Mary’s reply to the Angel was probably the most important yes in the history of the human race. However her yes, the yes of a woman to bear God’s Son, isn’t merely a female assent. Every human, male or female, young or old, who agrees to do the will of God, submits. At the heart of vocation is our response to dedicate our life to God and to seek to do his will. We are all called to bear Jesus.
Mary is, therefore, as are all men and women we regard as saints, ordinary people who respond to God’s will in extraordinary ways, an example for us to follow. Mary bears Jesus in an extraordinary way as we are called, through baptism, to bear Jesus in our perhaps ordinary way. We are encouraged by her example. That which is unique, one of a kind, draws near to us and helps us to respond with our own yes.
The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews reminds us that it is as we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses that we are able to look to Jesus, in and through whom or faith is begun and finished. From the earliest times the Church has identified this cloud or company of witnesses (witness means lifegiver) as the saints. They encourage our walk with Jesus. Such encouragement has been described as prayer. Unfortunately a very narrow definition of prayer creates misunderstanding and reaction to the whole idea of the communion of saints, an article of the Creed. If prayer is always a request, and more narrowly a request for salvation, then obviously such requests are appropriately offered to God the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit.
However, prayer is much wider than a plea for salvation. Prayer is conversation. Every time we worship together we share our prayers and praises, our confession and adoration with each other and with the whole church. Even our private, lonely prayers echo through the heavens and are taken up through the Spirit in the eternal offering of Jesus and those who surround him in glory.
Mary can’t save us — that has happened in our baptism. The saints can’t save us, for that has been given to us when we were adopted by God in Christ. But Mary and the saints can express the love that never fails in encouraging our devotion and echoing our prayers as they are taken up by angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.
Mary is also God-bearer, Theotokos, because the child within her womb, the child she bore, is God from God, Light from Light, True God of True God, and through Mary truly flesh of our flesh and blood of our blood. Her relationship to Jesus her son, her naming in the Creeds, presence in the Gospels, noted fellowship with the Apostles in the Upper Room as Jesus makes himself known, demands our collective admiration and devotion. When cousin Elizabeth met the pregnant Mary, the child leaped in her womb. “Blessed art thou among women,” and yes, Blessed art thou among all humans.
On this her Feast Day we hail Mary, bless Mary, enjoy her presence in the communion of saints and seek to follow her yes as God calls us to his work and witness.