Sermon preached by Revd Karen Charman on The Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 16th August 2020 at St Mary’s Church, Garsington
Click below to listen to an audio recording of the gospel and sermon.
And Mary said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
48 for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’
This is the Gospel of the Lord
Praise to you, O Christ.
Today, we celebrate the Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and her assumption, or ‘taking-up,’ into heaven.
We listen to Mary’s story:
“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee,
Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.”
Words spoken – first – long ago, though I remember as if it were yesterday. The sheer silence that suddenly stopped me in my tracks, as I walked to the well to draw water … then the radiant light … a light so bright that I almost dropped the water pitcher, in my haste to cover my eyes. And then the melodic voice – somehow both gentle and immeasurably powerful – “Greetings, favoured one. The Lord is with you.”
Such a perplexing greeting that I lowered the veil with which I’d hastily covered my eyes, and peered out through my fingers … to see a figure not quite human. A human form … a handsome face, olive-skinned, black hair, piercing brown eyes … clothed in a flowing white robe … and surrounded by radiant light … through which I thought I detected a glimmer of what might have been wings.
“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God,” they said – though I expect you’re familiar with that part of my story. A story so incredible that few believed it … so that those who saw my belly swell, a few months later, scorned and despised me, mocking me, and shaking their heads … so that Joseph looked at me with such pain, then hung his head and walked away … so that men picked up stones when I attempted to enter the synagogue … until even my parents sent me away …
And I set out and went with haste the long journey south from Nazareth to the Judean foothills, where Zechariah and Elizabeth lived. I say, I went with haste but, of course, it’s a five-day walk – four overnight stops, and I arrived late afternoon on the fifth day.
There, I hesitated on the threshold … Would I be welcomed or, even here, would I face rejection and scorn?
I tentatively pushed opened the door, and saw Elizabeth standing with her back to me, preparing a meal. I called out a greeting, “Shalom,” and her hands moved to cup her rounded stomach, as she turned around, and cried out in surprise. Her face broke into a grin. And then she laughed. Normally, we’d have raced into each other’s arms; but time seemed to stand still for a moment, as words poured from our mouths.
Later, much later, John would describe my Jesus as the Word, or logos – the Word who was in the beginning, with God; the Word who became flesh and pitched his tent among us; but on that day, Elizabeth and I were like fountains from which the Word of God streamed forth, like living water. It’s written in the scroll of the prophet Joel, “I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and daughters shall prophesy …” and, on that day, Elizabeth and I did, indeed, prophesy.
Poor Zechariah stood in silence and stared, as Elizabeth pronounced me blesséd among women; and his mouth fell open in amazement when she mentioned the fruit of my womb, and addressed me as the mother of her Lord.
And then the Holy Spirit filled me, too, and gave me a voice: a voice to praise the Lord, and to speak out with joy and gladness. A voice to tell of the greatness of the Lord, and to give thanks for all that he has done for me. A voice which spoke of the topsy-turvy kingdom of the God who has exalted me. A God who – by this mighty act – has scattered the proud; has brought down the powerful from their thrones; lifted up the lowly; filled the hungry with good things; and sent the rich away empty.
“Surely, from now on, all generations will call me blesséd …” I said.
Of course, that wasn’t the case straight away. When I returned to Nazareth, three months later, the name-calling continued … and the scorn and mockery … until Joseph took me into his home and slowly, slowly, the pain and suspicion and wounded look faded from his eyes, and was replaced with tenderness and love.
And now … now and throughout all generations … they do indeed call me blessed … blesséd among women … Queen of Heaven … Our Lady … Star of the Sea … Mother of God … Mother of the Church … Mother of us all.
“Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death,” they beseech me.
And I do.
I look down upon the anguish and suffering of God’s beloved children, and I remember how my own heart was pierced with love for my son.
Yes, all generations have call me blessed – but I know, too, the pain and heartache which all humans endure … the sword which pierces every heart that loves.
And so, I look down upon the anguish and suffering of all God’s children:
- the parents who lift their child’s lifeless body from the rubble of their home in Beirut … or Palestine … or Syria
- the Syrian mother who clings tightly to her children, as they cower in an inflatable dinghy, praying that they’ll find sanctuary and safety, if they reach the UK alive
- the young girl who goes without another meal, so that her brother can eat
- the boy who studied so hard to be the first in his family to attend university – only to have his offer of a place withdrawn
- the young man who struggles with anxiety, and low self-esteem, as a result of his sexuality
- the lonely … the housebound … the sick … the bereaved
I look down upon the anguish and suffering of God’s beloved children, and my heart is pierced again.
God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty …time and time again
And yet, man’s inhumanity to man continues.
But I look closer, and I see the seeds of hope – the light which continues to shine in the darkness … and to dispel the darkness.
I see young women and girls who remind me of myself, many years ago – not meek and mild, but feisty, bold, and determined … Women – and men, too – standing up for the powerless and oppressed.
I see a young girl holding world leaders to account, as she seeks to avert climate change. Another girl persuading the village elders to change the archaic traditions of their tribe. Young people, of all colours and creeds, marching together to assert that Black Lives Matter.
I see churches and cathedrals displaying rainbow flags, challenging homophobia and transphobia … Other churches running food banks … People shopping for their neighbours … picking up prescriptions … People signing petitions, lobbying for better provision for refugees and asylum seekers … Young people challenging the government over the absurd A Level algorithm …
I see millions of small acts of love … compassion … mercy … kindness … taking place all over the world, every moment of every day and night, and my spirit rejoices again in God my Saviour.
I know that the Kingdom of God is at hand, and that the day draws ever nearer when the earth shall be filled with the glory of God, and all manner of things shall be well.
Yes, my dear child, I will intercede for you, now and at the hour of your death.
And, in return, I urge you to:
– stand alongside the lowly and oppressed;
– fill the hungry with good things;
– magnify the Lord, and tell of his love and mercy;
– rejoice greatly;
– and to say, with me, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”