Catholic Contextual urban Theology, Mimetic Theory, Contemplative Prayer. And other random ramblings.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Sermon at Parish Mass The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary 2013

Revelation 11:19-12:6,10
Galatians 4:4-7
Luke 1:46-55

“Elvis has left the building.” A phrase first used, Wikipedia tells me, in 1956, to try to calm down excited concert goers who lingered in hope that the King of Rock and Roll might still be around. Since then it has entered popular culture as a phrase to mark any significant departure, a departure that changes our perception and viewpoint. The building is no longer the same when Elvis isn’t in it. 
Today we celebrate a more significant departure, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Most saints’ days mark departures, as they are usually celebrated on the day of their death. In old lists of saints this was referred to as the ‘birthday’ of the saint, the ‘natalis’ or birth into the life of heaven. But that is also of course their departure from this world. And today is the day of Mary’s departure from this world, a departure more complete than most, for it marks not only her death but also the tradition that her body as well as her soul was assumed into heaven - a foretaste of the general resurrection at the end of time.
A number of early legends elaborated the story of Mary’s assumption, and it is difficult to disentangle their historical core. But it is a fact that no bodily relics of Mary have ever been identified or venerated in the Church, in spite of the popularity of the relic cult from early times. There is indeed a tomb of Mary, near Jerusalem, but, like that of her Son, it is empty. Mary has left this world, it seems, entirely. 
This is not however a puzzle to be solved, as though we need to ask how this came about. Rather, it is a mystery, with a meaning. Mary, like all believers, is called to be conformed by grace to the image and pattern of Christ, her Son. And that image and pattern is the ascended Lord, risen from the dead and raised to the glory of heaven. To say that Mary is assumed into heaven is simply to say that Mary is fully alive in Christ, the ascended Lord. And in her assumption, as throughout her life, she points us to Jesus. It is his doing. It is the triumph of his grace in the life of Mary that we celebrate today.
And yet, it is still a day of departure. Mary, like Jesus, has left the world. But that is not an abandonment. If Mary has ascended it is only because Christ has. And the ascension of Christ does not say that this world is of no account, or that it doesn’t matter. Quite the reverse: the ascension gives the world its true meaning. And Mary, who with the whole Church is in Christ, the ascended Lord, participates in that meaning. 
The Bible says repeatedly that this world is transitory. It will not last for ever.  But equally it is not going to vanish into nothing. St Paul in 1 Corinthians says, “the present form of this world is passing away”, and in Romans says that the universe is “in labour with the birth pangs” of a new age. What is looked for is a new creation in Christ. In him, in his incarnation and ascension, our created human nature has been joined to the Divine nature, and has entered fully into the life of God. 
This passing world of signs and shadows points to what is to come, the world of absolute being, the life of creation fulfilled in the life of God. And Christ has entered that reality, says Paul in Ephesians, as the head of the Church, “which is his body, the fullness of him who himself fills all things”. It is the destiny of all creation to enter, in Christ, into the Kingdom of God, the realm of absolute and unconditioned being which will never pass away.
And that is where the Church believes Mary is. Mary, a created human being like us, is fully alive in Christ, the ascended Lord, who himself fills all things. She has departed from this passing world of signs and shadows, but this does not mean that she is absent. Rather, she is present in a new way, because she is in Christ, who himself fills all things. 
So Mary is invoked everywhere in the Christian world, in all times and places, under many titles which seem to combine the local and the universal.  Our Lady of Good Health, or of Perpetual Succour. Our Lady of Walsingham, or of Lourdes. There is even an Our Lady of the Snows in Antarctica. And she has appeared in many places, too, usually to those who are poor, marginalised or vulnerable - a sign of something being authentically from God - to draw attention once again to the unchanging gospel message of prayer, repentance and faith. Countless people turn to Mary for her prayers and find in her both closeness and compassion, refuge in affliction, solidarity in the communion of faith.
Even in the Scriptures we can see how Mary begins to be present in a new way through her being entirely in Christ. The last historical record we have of her is in Acts, in the midst of the group of disciples in the upper room as they spent their time in continual prayer, awaiting the promised gift of the Holy Spirit. But then there is that scene in Revelation which we heard as our first reading, the “great portent [that] appeared  in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars”. 
This is undoubtedly the mother of the Messiah, for “she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations”. But she is more, too. A woman appearing in heaven in Revelation brings to mind above all the Bride of the Lamb, the New Jerusalem, which appears in its closing chapters. Mary appears as the sign and the type of the completed Church, the new creation which comes down out of heaven from God. And she is in the pangs of giving birth, like the universe in labour to bring forth the new creation in Romans.
More extraordinary still, the attributes of the sun and moon and twelve stars - that is, the signs of the zodiac - are those of the Mother Goddess, Queen of Heaven, who was worshipped throughout Asia long before Christ.  The old intuitions of the Divine feminine that formed part of humanity’s spiritual searching down through the ages are taken up and reinterpreted when Christ is all in all. Mary is no longer constrained by the limitations of earthly life, and it does not seem strange to the author of Revelation to overlay these images in one dazzling vision: the mother of the Messiah; the Church in glory; the new creation; and the Queen of Heaven.
Mary today magnifies the Lord, and her spirit rejoices in God her saviour. And with her the whole church exults in joy. In her we see God’s purpose for us, the new creation in Christ of which this passing world is a sign and a shadow. Mary has left this world, but she has entered the greater reality, the Kingdom of God, the realm of absolute being where Christ is all in all. And she accompanies the pilgrim Church on its way to that same goal, helping us with her prayers, always pointing and leading us to Christ, who is the only saviour: of Mary, of us, and of all the world.

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