St Stephen Lewisham
17th August 2014


Mary’s Assumption


Two of the most beautiful hymns which we sing at St Stephen’s were composed in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary – one by a famous priest called John Keble the other by an equally famous bishop, Thomas Ken. These hymns will form the basis for my homily this morning to highlight four events in our Lady’s life on Earth.

The Annunciation:

As a teen-ager Mary was chosen by God to receive the invitation to become the earthly mother of His eternally begotten Son, Jesus Christ. She was someone who had learnt from her parents, Anne and Joachim the importance of putting God’s will for her before her own wishes and desires. That’s not something which all teenagers would do as readily as she did. Of this John Keble wrote: Lily of Eden’s fragrant shade! Who can express the love/ That nurtured thee, so pure and sweet/ Making thy heart a shelter sweet/ For Jesus’ Holy dove!

That word ‘Eden’ reminds us of Eve, the Mother of all mankind. In Eve we see someone who, by eating the forbidden fruit. failed to put God’s will before her own; but In Mary we see the New Eve, playing her God-given role (revealed to her by the angel Gabriel) in helping to undo the disobedient Eve’s mischief, by her obedience in saying ‘Amen [yes]’to God, and thus becoming the Mother of Godtheotokos, the God-bearer.

The Incarnation:

Move on nine months to the time when Mary gave birth to God the Son. Thomas Ken wrote as follows: Her Virgin eyes saw God incarnate born, When she to Bethl’em came that happy morn’. Have you ever tried to imagine what that must have felt like? After all the pains and joys of giving birth, there was God Himself being placed into her arms by the midwife. The word that comes to mind is ‘awesome’. About this experience John Keble wrote To [her], caressing and caressed, Clings the eternal child, Favoured beyond Archangels’ dream, When first on thee with tenderest gleam, Thy new-born Saviour smiled.

Yet within a few months Mary, Joseph and the Holy Child were refugees. Simeon’s prophecy that He would be ‘set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel’ and that ‘a sword would pierce her heart also’, began to come true. From that time onwards Mary’s vocation as the Lord’s handmaiden proved to be a switchback of ups and downs, gains and losses. If we want to serve the Living God let’s take note of her experience. The Christian Life in God’s service is no ‘bed of roses’, no ‘piece of cake’! It’s ‘days of toil’ but only ‘hours of ease’ as another hymn says.

The Crucifixion: On the Cross hung Jesus, perfect God and perfect Man, dying the death of a criminal! Listen to what Keble wrote: A Son that never did amiss/ That never shamed his Mother’s kiss/ Nor crossed her fondest prayer/ E’en from the Tree he deigned to bow/ For her his agonizèd brow/ Her, his sole earthly care. As He looked down at His mother, standing beneath the Cross with St John, His last thought was not for Himself and His own sufferings, but for her welfare. And from that moment the Beloved Disciple took her to his own home, and later into exile.

Perhaps that’s why St John, of all the four Evangelists, is able to tell us in his Gospel so much more about what Jesus said about Himself, and His relationship to God the Father: because Mary, His mother, had had much more opportunity than others, to listen to Him. So in her old age Mary, living with St John was in a unique position to pass on to him many of the sayings, teachings and divine insights of Jesus which otherwise might have been lost.

The Assumption (or ‘Reunion’)

Mary’s life on earth with her Son was punctuated by a series of ‘partings’ or losses. She ‘lost’ Him on their return from His first Passover in Jerusalem at the age of twelve; she ‘lost’ Him when he finally left their home in Nazareth to seek John the Baptist and begin His three-year ministry; she ‘lost’ Him (so to speak) when He was told that she was looking for Him, and answered with those chilling words, ‘Who is my mother’; they were parted by His death on Calvary and yet again when He was received up into Heaven at the Ascension.

Every Mother has been through one or more such experiences, even if it’s only when their child has wandered off whilst she was doing her shopping in the supermarket. Many of us, myself included, have lost a child through premature death. We have all shared in one way or another the grief of Mary to a greater or lesser extent.

But when finally she died in faith, what a wonderful and glorious experience awaited her to crown her earthly life! Let Bishop Ken have the last word: Heaven with transcendent joys her entrance graced/ Next to his throne her Son his Mother placed; And here below, now she’s of heaven possest/ All generations are to call her blest.

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