Last Saturday, on 15 August 2020, the Anglican Church celebrated the Feast Day of Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ. Mary is revered by all Christians and 15 August is often referred to as ‘Mary Day’ because on the same day the Roman Catholics celebrate ‘The Feast of the Assumption of Mary’ and the Orthodox Church celebrate the ‘Dormition of Mary’ [dormition comes from the Latin verb, dormio,which means ‘to sleep’ and refers to Mary’s death and her eternal life in Christ].
While the role of Mary has caused some division in the Western Church tradition, her undoubted centrality in the history of salvation is recognised by all Christians. Without Mary there would be no incarnation and all the major Christian denominations agree Mary was, and continues to be, a wonderful example to Christians of a strong women of faith who not only was chosen to give birth to Jesus but who was also revered and seen as leader in the nascent Christian community.
Many Christians refer to Mary as the first believer in Jesus and, for all Christians, Mary is a shining example of prayerful trust and faith in God’s promises. Her famous response to the angel’s announcement in Luke 1:38, “let it be with me according to thy word” has rung throughout the centuries as an example to all Christians to have faith and be open to God’s work in us and be courageous enough to allow God’s call to manifest through us.
Mary, the God-bearer [theotokos in Greek], has inspired countless prayers, choral pieces, paintings, icons, statues and buildings. As Christians, we can connect with Mary. We can empathise with her and see our own efforts and struggle with faith and suffering illustrated in her life. The Church has always recognised itself at best as an image of Mary, hence the reason why so many churches throughout the world are named after Mary, perhaps most famously Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.
In a sense, like Mary, all Christians are called to participate in the ongoing incarnation of Jesus Christ. Like Mary, we are invited to point towards Jesus and we are invited to grow in his likeness so that our lives gradually come to embody Jesus. This notion of embodiment is beautifully described in St Teresa of Avila’s prayer when she says:
“Christ has not body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”
Pointing to Jesus; becoming like Jesus and having faith in God’s promises can be revolutionary and often deeply counter-cultural. Mary left her home and followed her son, and died in another land – in today’s Turkey. Despite all odds she became a revered faith leader in a male dominated world. Throughout two thousand years male and female disciples of Jesus have heard the call of Christ to follow him and, like Mary, we continue to live with faith and hope and with Mary we say, “Let it be with me according to thy word”.
Rev’d Hans Christiansen