Galatians 4. 4 – 7
Luke 1. 46 – 55
Today we keep the great festival of Our Lady, known by many western Christians as the Assumption: when Mary is taken up into heaven at the end of her life on earth. You’ve probably seen paintings of Mary floating above the Apostles.
Anglicans, in typical fashion, are slightly more circumspect about it. It isn’t recorded in the Bible, so we don’t talk about it.
But for Christians throughout the ages and around the world today, this is a really important feast.
The Orthodox know it as the Dormition: the falling asleep. Which I think is a rather lovely image. It doesn’t deny the fact of death. But it reminds us of the central aspect of Christian faith: that after death, is life. We will ‘wake up’ again, after we fall asleep, in the fullness of time.
And in this sense our celebration today isn’t really about how wonderful Mary is, or how holy, or how special – although all those things are true.
It’s that even in her death she points us to Christ, and the truth of his resurrection.
And that’s Mary’s great vocation, always to point us to Christ. It’s her wonderful example to us, that true joy – and true life – is to be found in obedience to God’s word. In listening carefully, and following his way.
The Gospel reading that the Orthodox hear on the Dormition makes this truth clear.
Jesus says in the reading that it’s not the womb that bore him that is blest; but rather “those who hear the Word of God, and keep it.”
On the face of it it’s a strange reading to hear when celebrating Mary – Jesus seems to be reducing Mary’s importance, removing the special status that his followers have given her.
But of course, it is exactly for “hearing God’s word and keeping it” that we honour Mary most highly.
The very first time we encounter her in the Bible, at the Annunciation, she hears God’s word, and keeps it: “let it be to me according to your word” – and she conceives the very Word of God within her.
And I think that’s the reason that today’s feast – despite its lack of Biblical credentials – has found such a firm place in the life and liturgy of billions of Christians throughout the ages.
Because in her departure from this world, whether it’s the grand bodily assumption of the West, or the more gentle falling asleep of the East: in her death we can already see the Paschal victory of her Son being worked out, reaching her as well.
For those who follow Christ, who hear God’s word and keep it, death isn’t any more a descent into nothingness. Death is now the entrance into life: eternal life, with Christ.
Now, we don’t need Mary for this. We know that this is what Christ achieved at Easter.
But perhaps there’s a little part of us that wonders… is it really for me too? Christ was fully human, of course, but he was also fully God. I can get on board with God coming back to life, because he’s God. But can I really do it too?
Well, if that sounds familiar, then take today’s feast to your comfort. Mary’s death isn’t a resurrection as such; but it points to the truth of the resurrection: that life really comes after death. And it reminds us that resurrection is for us, too.
Mary, an ordinary, humble human girl, just like any of us, really – shows us most clearly in her death our own destiny. She shows us that death is no longer the end, but a transition – a falling asleep, to arise with Christ.
As we heard in our reading from Galatians, the incarnation didn’t just make God human: it made human beings divine, children and heirs of God. Yes, we can do what Jesus did!
This is what we entered into at our baptism, when we died to the ways of this world, and agreed to strive to be those who “hear God’s word, and keep it.” To strive to be like Mary and be a living witness to the great works of God, in Christ.
To sing with her the Magnificat that we heard this morning – the great joyful acknowledgement of all that God has done.
So let us rejoice with Mary in what Christ has made possible through his death and life; and what she shows us today through her death and entry into his eternal life.
And let us keep following Mary’s example, and looking first to Christ in all things. Amen.