Every family has one, don’t they, the ‘interesting’ relative that you don’t quite know what to do with, where to sit him or her at family gatherings.
It’s a bit like that with the Virgin Mary. The Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches esteem and venerate Mary, the Protestant Churches keep an acquaintance of sorts, remembering her in and around Christmas, and the Church of England – as a Reformed Catholic Church, for that is our self-descriptor – doesn’t know quite what to do.
The Anglo Catholic constituency within the C of E family venerate the Blessed Virgin on a week by week basis and whilst their Evangelical cousins make sure that they remain in touch on an annual basis at Christmas time. Maybe this is an oversimplification, but you get my drift. As someone who stands in what I would describe as the Modern Catholic tradition I esteem Mary highly, for it seems to me that there is no escaping the fact that she is ‘the Mother of God.’ This makes her special. Mary’s vocation was to give birth to Jesus, and if you think about it that too is our job. So we should be, at the very least, deeply inspired by Mary and her life story. In being inspired by and in looking up to Mary we can perhaps learn a little bit of what it means to live as a Christian, for she is in many ways the prototype Christian.
First, I would suggest, it simply means being open to God and then saying ‘yes,’ to His call on our lives. We should never forget that when Mary is given the unique vocation to be the Mother of Jesus her response is ‘let it be with me according to your word.’ Is this our response, or do we quietly whisper to God, ‘terms and conditions apply?’
Then we can learn from Mary’s simplicity and humility. She has no airs or graces. She doesn’t regard herself as superior to anyone else, even though she has been given the job of giving birth to Jesus, our saviour; which if you accept the Christian story, must be the single most important job ever. Listen to her words, ‘for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant, surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed.’ Mary recognises that her blessing is simply in being the privilege of being chosen to bear Jesus. Do we recognise that this is where our real blessing lies? Or do we look for kudos and prizes? I know I sometimes do.
Finally, I think Mary has a lot to teach us about constancy and fidelity. Her young Son, our Saviour, must have driven her to despair at times; don’t our relatives and friends to just that? And yet Mary, despite her highly unusual Son, hung on in there, and was there for him. She nurtured Jesus, she facilitated the process of Jesus maturing into His role and His vocation. Do we nurture others, even when they behave in seemingly bizarre and unorthodox ways? Or, do we occasionally succumb to the temptation to insist that folk would behave as we would have them behave and take on the job, roles and responsibilities that we think would be good for them? I am sure that Mary must have felt that Jesus wasn’t really headed in the right direction, and yet she didn’t stand in His way and insist that he changed track. Instead she nurtured him and let him go.
And, she remained faithful. When we arrive at what must have seemed like the end of the Jesus story, there we find, yet again, Mary, stood at the foot of the Cross. However, as we all now know the Cross wasn’t the end of the story. However Mary does remind us that in order to experience Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecost we first have to go the Cross. We have to look agony, defeat and death in the face and remain faithful to the story. How prepared are you to do this? Again sometimes I don’t want. Sometimes if I am honest I would prefer Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecost on easier, softer, cross-less terms. The trouble is that it just doesn’t work like this.
So here is the challenge:
Let’s not be embarrassed by Mary. Instead let’s welcome her and learn from her life story. Let us remember that she was the first person to say ‘yes’ to Jesus, to give birth to Jesus – which remains our vocation – and that she did it with simplicity, humility, constancy and fidelity. Surely these are the qualities that we should aspire to as we seek to grow the Christian story in this generation? Amen.
Rev. Andrew Lightbown