Sermon St Paul’s Gulworthy 15 August 2021 Year B Trinity11 Virgin Mary
Isaiah 61v10-11 (Psalm 45v10-17) Galatians 4v4-7 Luke 1v46-45
Let us pray
Today we celebrate the festival of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a tradition that can be traced back to the time in the fourth century when the Church was coming out of years of persecution and felt free and able to look back at its early history.
As the New Testament tells us nothing of the early life of Mary, and nothing about her death, there have grown up various traditions, some being most fanciful, so we can say nothing with any degree of certainty.
The names given to Mary’s parents, Joachim and Anna, given in the apocryphal gospel of James, are generally accepted. The most popular locations for her place of birth and home are Jerusalem and Nazareth. Some traditions say Mary was given by her parents to serve in the Temple from an age of around three, with a vow, rather like the Nazarite vow described in Numbers 6(v1-21), to be free from impurities and she was dedicated as a Temple virgin. However, there is little evidence any such practice actually existed in the second Temple of Jesus time.
Around the age of fourteen, when husbands were to be found by the priests for these girls, no one suitable for Mary was found until the high priest had a dream that the staffs of widowers should be presented, and the one that budded was to be chosen. That reminds us of the way God instructed Moses to chose the leaders of tribes, again described in the book of Numbers in chapter 17.
And, you have guessed it, Joseph’s staff was the one that budded. Then off they move to Nazareth, and a more reliable story is picked up from there in our gospels.
Mary’s humble obedience to God’s call for her to be the mother of the Messiah, as a yet unmarried young woman, and of the disgrace that would bring to her and Joseph, is celebrated in Mary’s song the Magnificat, that we have just said together. Once more there are parallels from the Old Testament. In 1 Samuel 2, Hannah, the barren mother of the prophet Samuel, gives thanks after her son’s birth saying, “My heart exults in the Lord, my strength is exalted in the Lord”.
If we then skip to the end of our gospel records, we know that at the foot of the cross were standing Mary, and the Apostle John, and Jesus in his agony commended Mary into John’s safe keeping. We read (John19v27), ‘Then he-Jesus said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.’
One tradition tells of how Mary travelled with Saint John the evangelist, to Ephesus in present day Turkey, and in the nineteenth century Mary’s house was apparently miraculously discovered and has become a good tourist attraction!
In Eastern Orthodox tradition it was there that Mary fell asleep, this is called the ‘dormition’, so it is in Ephesus that Mary died around the age of 50. But then when her tomb was opened her body was not found as she had been taken up to heaven.
Another, and perhaps earlier tradition places Mary’s falling asleep in Jerusalem. Today there is the Church of the Dormition, falling asleep, on mount Zion, the highest point in the then ancient city. And at the foot of the mount of Olives is where the tomb of Mary is now venerated.
The Assumption of Mary, that her body was taken up to heaven, rests strongly on the testimony of the seventh century Saint John of Damascus who wrote, “St Juvenal, Bishop of Jerusalem, at the Council of Chalcedon (AD451), made known to the Emperor Marcian, who wished to possess the body of the Mother of God, that Mary died in the presence of all the apostles, but that her tomb, when opened, upon the request of St Thomas, was found empty; where upon the apostles concluded that the body was taken up to heaven.”
Like much of the life of Mary, the question as to whether Mary actually died before she was assumed into heaven, is one open to considerable conjecture. However, we do know what a significant part Mary had to play in God’s plan for the redemption of humanity, and of our salvation as Christians.
In our reading from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, we see that the birth of our Lord took place when ‘the fullness of time had come’, that time when all going on in the nations, and maybe even in the heavenly spiritual realm as well, came together for God the Father to send his beloved Son to take on our human form and enter into his physical creation in person. For that to happen, and for Jesus to be both truly human, yet also truly divine, the right woman had also to appear upon the scene, and that was Mary, a woman open to God’s call, and to be obedient to it.
We then, who have now been redeemed and become the adopted children of God, and become members of God’s own household and of his intimate family, can rejoice as we cry ‘Abba! Father’. Our separation and estrangement from God, brought about by our disobedience to follow God’s commandments and statutes, have been removed through the obedience of Jesus to the father’s will, and to suffer for us upon the cross of Calvary.
Our faith and trust in Jesus gives to us a new and unimaginable hope, a hope that sets us Christians apart from all others. And what is that hope?
Our hope is not just in the resurrection, not just in the promise of an eternal life with Abba Father, and with our Lord Jesus in the coming new creation, but that hope is we are to be heirs, joint heirs with our Lord Jesus to the new creation.
Can you even begin to imagine just what that may mean? So how do you know all this is true?
Well, Paul gave the answer to those Christians in Galatia when he wrote, ‘God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts.’ Do you, do I, know, recognise and experience God’s Holy Spirit in our hearts and in our lives, that Spirit that enables us with confidence to cry ‘Abba! Father’? I do hope so.
It is through that same Holy Spirit that we, like the Prophet Isaiah, who also knew in his life and ministry God’s Holy Spirit upon him, that we can ‘greatly rejoice in the Lord’, and that our whole being can exult in God our Father.
Isaiah describes how that is possible when he reminds us that God has clothed each one of us with ‘a garment of salvation’, and covered us with ‘a robe of righteousness’. They are not something that we can earn for ourselves, but they come as a free gift from the grace and mercy of our loving and generous God. They come to us at an exorbitant cost to God, and what was that cost?
It cost God the blood and death of his beloved Son at Calvary. It cost God that extreme moment in time when Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.” Surely the most agonising cry ever proclaimed. But that cry, at that moment, meant that Jesus secured our redemption, and for Jesus it was for the ‘Joy that was set before him.’
The writer of the letter to the Hebrews (12v1-2) explains that moment like this, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
So with such an unimaginable hope now set before us, a hope of the joy of reigning with Christ and sharing in the new wine of the kingdom, let us this morning fix our eyes upon Jesus as we meet with him at our communion table.
So let us pray: The Collect for this the 11th Sunday after Trinity
O God, you declare your almighty power most chiefly in showing mercy and pity:
mercifully grant to us such a measure of your grace, that we,
running the way of your commandments, may receive your gracious promises,
and be made partakers of your heavenly treasure;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen