Sermon for the Feast of St. Mary The Virgin August 15, 2015 Preacher: The Rev. Bret B. Hays
You may think you lead a busy life, but you’ve got nothing on Mary. From interrogating angels, to casually declaring defiance of the entire secular world order, to hasty road trips to Egypt, to searching high and low around the Temple for Jesus to prodding him to perform his first miracle, Mary got a lot done. And of course she went on from there, to the agony of watching her son’s crucifixion and death, and finally to the ecstasy of the day of Pentecost, where she was present at the dramatic arrival of the Holy Spirit in the world. Mary was there for the whole story, before, during, and after the public ministry of Jesus, his first and most faithful disciple and a shining example of the power of a life lived in complete dedication to the will of God. Many scholars accept the ancient tradition that she was an active presence in the early church, a leader, a guide, and undoubtedly the highest authority on all matters concerning her son. I get tired just thinking about her accomplishments.
Today we celebrate the completion of Mary’s earthly life, the moment of her arrival in heaven. Some of you may have been taught that God took Mary into heaven bodily and without experiencing death, the doctrine of the Assumption. Others may identify with the Eastern Orthodox doctrine of the Dormition of Mary, that she did experience an earthly death before being taken into heaven. Anglicanism, characteristically, does not attempt to pick winners and losers on this point, and so we simply call this principal Marian feast the Feast of Saint Mary the Virgin. The important thing is not how Mary got to heaven but that she is there now, experiencing the joy of eternal life in communion with her son and all the saints. As the Orthodox say, “In birth, you preserved your virginity; in death, you did not abandon the world, O God-bearer. As mother of life, you departed to the source of life, delivering our souls from death by your intercessions.”
Unfortunately, the Church has not always been good about teaching the implications and consequences of sainthood, neglecting one of our most powerful and inspiring doctrines. The Saints are not merely colorful historical figures and good examples we should try to remember. As Christians we believe, and our Prayer Book clearly states, that eternal life is very real, and the saints continue the good work they began on Earth. So if anything, Mary is even busier now than she was in the first century! She and all the saints pray for us without ceasing and as we saw in the wedding at Cana, Jesus isn’t in the habit of saying “no” to his mother. Again, to quote the Orthodox liturgy, Neither the grave nor death could contain the God-bearer, the unshakable hope, ever vigilant in intercession and protection.”
Closer to home, one of the brothers in the Society of St. John the Evangelist, Br. Geoffrey Tristram, wrote, “Mary is the first and archetypal Christian. It was her faith and trust, her consent, which allowed God to send his son into the world. As she believed and trusted in God, so we are called to believe and trust in God’s promises, and to say yes, when he calls us.” When we follow her example of complete and undivided devotion to God, we defy the powers of this world, the proud, the powerful, and the rich. We stand more nearly in the kingdom of God, where the false distinctions we set up between our fellow human beings are abolished and we are truly one in Christ.
So take heart and be encouraged for indeed, we have friends in high places. Mary continues the fight against evil with the same dauntless courage that she demonstrated two thousand years ago and the whole communion of saints follows her lead. The least we can do is keep in touch, holding up the saints in prayer just as they pray for us. (Remember, prayer is just another word for communication.) Every mother loves to hear from her kids, you know. Keep Mary close to your heart and your mind, just as we are close to hers. Rejoice in her triumph and her continual work on our behalf, and rejoice that her triumph prefigures the triumph of the Church on Earth. United with God through prayer, word, and sacrament, all of our souls will be like the soul of Mary, magnifying the Lord.