Monday 15 August 2022 The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Solemnity
The sanctuary of God in heaven opened and the ark of the covenant could be seen inside it. Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman, adorned with the sun, standing on the moon, and with the twelve stars on her head for a crown. She was pregnant, and in labour, crying aloud in the pangs of childbirth. Then a second sign appeared in the sky, a huge red dragon which had seven heads and ten horns, and each of the seven heads crowned with a coronet. Its tail dragged a third of the stars from the sky and dropped them to the earth, and the dragon stopped in front of the woman as she was having the child, so that he could eat it as soon as it was born from its mother. The woman brought a male child into the world, the son who was to rule all the nations with an iron sceptre, and the child was taken straight up to God and to his throne, while the woman escaped into the desert, where God had made a place of safety ready. Then I heard a voice shout from heaven, ‘Victory and power and empire for ever have been won by our God, and all authority for his Christ.’
Psalm 44 On your right stands the queen, in garments of gold.
1 Corinthians 15:20-26
Christ has been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of all who have fallen asleep. Death came through one man and in the same way the resurrection of the dead has come through one man. Just as all men die in Adam, so all men will be brought to life in Christ; but all of them in their proper order: Christ as the first-fruits and then, after the coming of Christ, those who belong to him. After that will come the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, having done away with every sovereignty, authority and power. For he must be king until he has put all his enemies under his feet and the last of the enemies to be destroyed is death, for everything is to be put under his feet.
Mary set out and went as quickly as she could to a town in the hill country of Judah. She went into Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. Now as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She gave a loud cry and said, ‘Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord? For the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy. Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.’
And Mary said: ‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit exults in God my saviour; because he has looked upon his lowly handmaid. Yes, from this day forward all generations will call me blessed, for the Almighty has done great things for me. Holy is his name, and his mercy reaches from age to age for those who fear him. He has shown the power of his arm, he has routed the proud of heart. He has pulled down princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things, the rich sent empty away. He has come to the help of Israel his servant, mindful of his mercy – according to the promise he made to our ancestors – of his mercy to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’ Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months and then went back home.
The readings of today’s Solemnity are the narrative of an epic story. We can focus on the particular characters in the epic, but the rich symbolism reveals that the story behind the story is the real point of the Feast. We know this is a Sacred story. The first line from the reading from Apocalypse opens the curtain of the stage to reveal the sanctuary. The Holy of Holies. This is the stage for this narrative to be told. When in our lives we recognise we are close to the Sanctuary we have the sense that we are close to the theatre of God’s action in the world. The Sanctuary is the thin place as the Irish call it, a place where heaven and earth are no longer separate but one. God is near. God is touching our lives.
On the Sanctuary is the Ark of the Covenant. The Promise of God to his people, as we read in the prophet Jeremiah 30:22, “I will be your God and you will be my people.” So, the narrative of this Feast finds its meaning in the setting of God’s intimate relationship with us. This is an incarnational story, whose name is Emmanuel, “God with us”.
It is in this context we see the woman adorned with the sun and the stars, giving birth to the child. Or as the Psalmist portrays her, the Queen in garments of gold. And in this context, we also see the great power of darkness, attempting to consume the gift of light, goodness, and innocence. So, right in the beginning we hear how God is in the middle of our human lives, wanting to build a relationship with his people. But we also hear that the sacred is born into our world. And in our world the proud, the powerful, and privileged seek to diminish the life of the sacred, in order to ensure their own advantage. This battle has raged in every age, and still today. The mighty dragon of the Roman Empire which John alludes to, could be any of our empires today. Empires that promote death. Whether death of the body or death of the mind or soul, death of freedom or life, or death of innocence and goodness.
In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul reminds us of the promise that this “Child born of a woman” has the power to overcome all these deaths. “Just as all die in Adam, so all will be brought to life in Christ.” “After that will come the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, having done away with every sovereignty, authority and power.” As the Sanctuary opens and the Ark of the Covenant is revealed we see the promise of the Sacred relationship of God in the world, born of a woman, replacing man-made self-interests.
The well-known Canticle of the Gospel proclaims this new vision of God’s presence in the world bringing a new order based on his Promise to his people. The one God chooses to embody this promise is Mary.
The Gospel portrait of Mary is of a young pregnant woman, who we assume has heard the amazing story of her elderly, and now also pregnant kinswoman, Elizabeth, who was barren, and her husband who was silent and can now speak, and the way in which the promise of God to Elizabeth and Zechariah was fulfilled. Mary goes in haste, perhaps because she wants to go tell them what has happened to herself, perhaps to check the story she has heard about them, perhaps because she wants to confirm what God seems to be doing. John in Elizabeth’s womb recognises the sacred encounter — that Mary has become the Sanctuary and the Fruit of her Womb, has become the Ark of the Covenant.
The epic narrative behind this Feast, is the story of Promise – a promise that the life we inherit as people of God cannot be extinguished by the darkness of human folly. On the contrary the light of God always triumphs.
The Promise of life over death is commemorated in the death of Mary because the tradition says her body did not decay but that she was raised up, body and soul, into heaven. The Assumption is testimony to the Promise.
We give thanks for the Promise and for Mary.