Friday, August 15, 2008

St. Mary & Us

St. Timothy's is blessed to have a fairly long observance of the feast of St. Mary on August 15th,  with a special festival Eucharist and community meal following. Thanks to our roots in Catholic Anglicanism and a deep appreciation for the central role accorded St. Mary in the Scriptures and the teaching of the undivided Church, we are able to celebrate the truth about Our Lady: she is both a very human being like us and a remarkable, holy person who answered God’s call in a unique way. The Bible tells us a great deal about St. Mary, but it does so in ways that always point to Jesus – and to us.

Pointing to Jesus: From the moment of the Annunciation through the Pentecost, Mary is present as a witness and a participant in Jesus’ ministry. Mary gives her consent and her body in order that God might take flesh and dwell among us. In giving birth to Jesus, she becomes what the Early Church at the 4th Ecumenical Council (Chalcedon, 451 A.D.) called her: the Theotokos, or God-bearer (see BCP p. 864). This leaves us with a great mystery to contemplate: her womb was at one and the same time a finite place where the Christ-child developed into a baby, and also contained eternity and infinity in the Godhead found in that hidden, growing child.

Mary’s entire life and ministry as recorded in Scripture points to Jesus. She both nurtures the child Jesus and must gradually come to grips with the nature of His calling. She is a follower, present at the Cross, and also a learner, “treasuring in her heart” the experiences and events she could not at that moment understand as she journeyed with her son. Always, one imagines, she bore in her mind the moment when God called her to this ministry, a moment both glorious and laden with risk. How much we can share in that understanding of discipleship, if we try!

Pointing to us: St. Mary has been seen from very early on in the Church as a kind of image for what faithful people need to be like. We need to be open to God’s call and will. We need to listen carefully to God’s word in our life, and treasure those things we do not yet understand when God speaks – awaiting the time in life when these seeds reach maturity, sprouting in mysterious ways. We, like Mary, must be loyal to Jesus when times are good and when they are difficult. As with St. Mary, we are called to “bear Christ” into the world in our own way, as God calls us.

Finally, we are to join St. Mary in pointing to Christ, and not to our own selves. It would be much easier to make life an ego-trip, but it is supposed to be a pilgrimage back to the Father. We are messengers, not the message. St. Mary is an icon of the Church, and we are called to follow her example. Her greatest feast-day, August 15th, is a celebration of her life, her death and repose with Christ in heaven forever, and our calling to join her in offering our lives in holiness, consecrated to a God who knows us each by name, and calls us each to be more than merely our ordinary selves: for within each human being there is a potential self than can only be found by saying, like St. Mary, “behold, I am the servant of the Lord: be it unto me according to your word.”

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