“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. “
This Sunday, August 15, the Church commemorates Mary, Mother of Our Lord.
(Of course, in the Roman Catholic tradition, it is known as the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. But that is a discussion for another day.)
The last time this so-called “Lesser Festival” fell on a Sunday was in 2010. It is pleasing to see that several churches, according to their websites, indicate that many are deviating from the assigned readings from the Revised Common Lectionary to celebrate this day.
Philip Pfatteicher, in his New Book of Festivals and Commemorations, points out that the remembrance of Mary was removed from many Lutheran calendars as a reaction to the excessive attention to Mary by the Roman Catholic Church. However, it was reinstated by most Lutheran bodies by the late 20th Century. [p. 396]
In a sermon for the Second Sunday of Advent, the late Peter Gomes, in his book, Sermons: Biblical Wisdom for Daily Living (1998), writes that, “Part of our problem with Mary is, I suspect, that we know her to be a woman, and believe her to be a Catholic, and even in these enlightened days far removed from the intolerance of an earlier time, such an identity creates a problems for us Protestants…We are not certain what to do with her but the question is wrongly put, for it is not so much what we are to do with Mary as it what God does with Mary. How is she used as an instrument of his purpose?” [p. 10]
Though Mary is mentioned quite frequently in the Gospels and the book of Acts, it is in the Gospel according to Luke that she takes center stage.
The angel Gabriel visits Mary and announces to her that she is to give birth to the Son of God.
After her initial astonishment, Mary travels to her cousin Elizabeth’s house and there she receives a blessing by the mother of another special child to be, John the Baptist.
Mary’s response is to sing the song that we’ve come to know as “The Magnificat.” It has been the traditional canticle of Evening Prayer services for countless years. It has captured the imaginations of a countless number of musicians, poets, and storytellers throughout Christian history.
But the Magnificat is much more than just a pretty song. It is a revolutionary song—perhaps one of the most revolutionary documents available. With its images of reversals and the surprising “upside down” way of God’s justice, it has been especially favored by those who are oppressed.
We see that throughout Luke’s Gospel. Those in power are the opponents of Jesus. They are portrayed as people who look to enhance their own social honor and prestige, and as people who are indifferent to those lower on the social ladder.
And the focus of Mary’s hymn is never on herself but on God and what God has done to her and for her. The song celebrates the God who keeps promises.
It is somewhat providential that this Gospel reading appears in our Sunday lessons precisely in these turbulent times in which we find ourselves, rampant with so much anxiety, generated by viruses, political discord, racial animus, and other societal divisions.
Many of us are struggling to survive economically, medically, psychologically, spiritually. The world is crowding and crashing into all our lives, stressing our sense of wholeness, our self-esteem, our ability to care for ourselves, our ability to care for those we care most for, our energy to serve those vulnerable people who most need care. We feel vulnerable, overwhelmed, and exhausted.
It is now that we need to hear the words of hope that Mary sings in this revolutionary hymn as we struggle to live in the contradictions that press in against us. This lowly Jewish maiden became the mother of God so we can find God in our own lives and the lives of others, in our own struggles and the struggles of others, in our own situation and in the situations of the lives of others.
To quote once more from Gomes, “She becomes the mother not only of Jesus, but of our vocation and our calling as well. She shows us that it is possible for us to be gifted one with her, the bearers of Christ in our world, and that in us as in her, God’s will is made manifest.” [p. 15]
God, in Jesus, gives hope to a failed people in a fallen world. And for that, we give thanks to God and celebrate Mary’s faithful witness on this Festival of Mary, Mother of Our Lord.