It’s not just about being good, it’s about becoming holy.
The Reverend Mark Birch Minor Canon and Sacrist
Thursday, 15th August 2019 at 5.00 PM
Today, brothers and sisters, we celebrate the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus, our Lord and our God. Whether we celebrate her Assumption into heaven, according to the western Catholic doctrine, or her Dormition, according to the Orthodox east, we certainly celebrate her part in salvation history, and the crowning of her own salvation at the end of her earthly life.
Why is Mary given such prominence in Churches east and west? So much so that some other churches fear that Jesus gets somewhat eclipsed; arguing that too much is said of someone about whom the Scriptures say very little. Her prominence relates not just to her unique role in salvation history, as the woman from whom Christ was born, but also because she thereby becomes a type, a model, of the Christian life. Mary supremely represents the Church in its relationship to Christ—she shows us what it is to be Christian.
What Mary shows us, in the witness of her earthly and now heavenly life, is that being Christian is not an extrinsic relationship with Christ—it’s not about someone separate from us, over and against us, a rival being. Being a Christian, as St Paul tells us and as Mary shows us, is about being in Christ, and having Christ in us.
After her Assumption or Dormition, according to iconography both east and west, the Mother of Jesus receives her crown—‘next to his throne her Son his Mother placed’ wrote Bishop Ken in the hymn we will sing later. The woman who carried Christ physically within her is crowned by her Son to mark the fulfilment of her Christian vocation, her exemplary Christian vocation. She now shares in His glory eternally—redeemed through his suffering that she witnessed and shared—alive by his resurrection and the descent of the Spirit, which she witnessed and received alongside the apostles. The life of heaven she now enjoys is not so much life with Christ, it is life in Christ, our risen and ascended King; humanity crowned and sharing the divine glory that is his alone.
And this isn’t to put Mary on a pedestal, as it were—to say such things of Mary is to express the hope that is for every last one of us; for she is a Christian, and she shows us what we ordinary Christians are called to—indeed, what, in Christ, all humankind is called to.
There is a glorious mosaic in the Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere, in Rome, where Christ, throned in glory, embraces his Mother at her coronation. Mary looks out at us, as if to say—all this is yours, for I am a Christian like you—you too are called to be crowned and embraced by Christ—to be taken up in his eternal glory and love.
So Mary’s crown is also ours, to the extent that we are in Christ, and Christ in us, the hope of glory. This is pretty mysterious stuff for simple folk here on earth, and so the Eucharist enacts the mystery for us; makes it physical—we receive Christ’s body to become Christ’s body—Christ in us, ourselves in Christ.
In Mary we celebrate the full achievement of God in the Incarnation—the Word made flesh through Mary—which is this unimaginable, unmerited intimacy, this mutual indwelling of God and humankind. Being a Christian, in the end, is more than being obedient, it is, by God’s mercy, about sharing the divine life - living in God and the life of God in us—casting our crowns before him, lost in wonder, love and praise, in Charles Wesley’s words. It’s not just about being good, it’s about becoming holy; the wonder of our Christian calling—our high vocation in Christ—and it is Mary, this woman full of God’s grace, who shows us how.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.