Today the Church celebrates the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This feast commemorates Mary being taken up after death, body and soul, into Heaven. It is important to stress that Assumption is something passive rather than active; Jesus ascends to Heaven, whilst Mary is assumed. This is a profound difference between the two. Jesus ascends because He is God, Mary is assumed because she is the Mother of God, and the model for all Christians to follow. Humble and obedient in her life, in her death Our Lord’s Mother shares fully in the resurrection of her Son, and points the way for us as Christians. Where Mary goes, we hope to follow, trusting in the love and mercy of God. It is a sign, to us as Christians, that we can trust the promises of Christ who went to prepare a place for us; that where He is, we may also be.
From the early days of the Church there is a tradition that Mary’s tomb, in the valley of Jehoshaphat just outside Jerusalem, is empty, and that her bodily remains are not there. From this developed the belief that after her death she was given a share in her Son’s glory, victory, and eternal life. This is both a reward for her faithfulness and humility, her obedience to God, and it is also a sign to us that this is what Christ came to share with us, his people. God in Christ shares our human life, from beginning to end, and offers us eternal life in Heaven, which Mary enjoys. We can trust what God promises us, because God is loving and faithful, even when we are not. He is merciful, so that we can be transformed by His Love. This is the Good News of the Kingdom. We do not deserve it, we cannot earn it, yet God gives it in loving generosity to heal all that has been marred by sin and strife.
In today’s first reading, from the Book of Revelation, St John has a vision of Heaven:
And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars (Revelation 12:1)
This is why Mary is often depicted in art as a woman crowned with stars. At the foot of the Cross, during Jesus’ Crucifixion, John, the Beloved disciple, was given a new family:
When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. (John 19:26-27)
John has been close to both Jesus and His Mother, Mary in her earthly life. Now, John has a glimpse of her in Heavenly Glory, sharing the Glory of her Son, Jesus Christ. The Church honours her as the Mother of God, Theotokos, meaning ‘God-bearer’ in Greek. Without Mary saying ‘Yes’ to God at the Annunciation, our salvation would not have been possible. Her response gives us the hope of Heavenly Glory, which she enjoys, close to God in this life and the next.
John’s vision of Heaven shows us that we can have hope of eternal life, through Christ’s victory over sin and death:
Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come (Revelation 12:10)
It is this hope which allows St Paul to write to the church in Corinth:
For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive (1Corinthians 15:22)
Christ is the new Adam. Sunday, the day of His Resurrection is the first day of the week, and a sign of the New Creation. Likewise, Mary is the new Eve, but whereas Eve is disobedient in the Garden of Eden, Mary is obedient in the Annunciation, agreeing to bear the Son of God in her womb. Thus, Christ is born, and humanity can be saved, healed, and restored. Mary shares in her Son’s victory over sin and death as a Sign of the reality of the Resurrection, a promise made to humanity to share in God’s love and intimacy.
The Gospel reading begins with a demonstration of Mary’s care and service. She goes to stay with her older cousin, Elizabeth, who is six months pregnant. Elizabeth’s prayers for a child have been answered, but the realities of life mean that she needs help. Elizabeth’s husband, Zechariah, is busy in the Temple, so Mary lovingly comes in haste to help her cousin. As she arrives, Elizabeth’s baby leaps in her womb. John the Baptist greets Jesus and Mary with joy: even before his birth. He is a prophet, announcing the wonderful works of God.
And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (Luke 1:41)
Elizabeth recognises the wonderful thing that has happened, and understands that through Mary’s child God’s promise is being fulfilled. She also recognises Mary’s faith, and says to her:
“Blessed is she who believed” (Luke 1:45)
Mary is indeed blessed in giving birth to the Saviour of humanity, blessed in her obedience, love, and service, and blessed after death to share in the Heavenly Glory of her Son. The way in which Mary trusts God, gives Christians a clear example to follow in living the life of faith. We need to be like Mary.
This is why every evening at Vespers (Evensong), Mary’s great hymn of praise, is recited. This is the Magnificat, which starts, “My Soul doth Magnify the Lord” (Luke 1:46). These words reveal Mary’s complete trust in God, a God who takes it upon Himself to overcome sin and death by giving us His Son, Jesus, who establishes a kingdom of love, forgiveness, and generosity. Despite all our mistakes and failures, God showers us with His love and mercy. All the readings this morning are rooted in the simple fact that God loves us, and Mary shows us how to respond to that love. Her Assumption gives us hope that when Jesus says:
‘In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?’ (John 14:2)
God makes room for us, the question is can we make room for Him? Can we be like Mary, trusting God to be at work in us? Can we let His Grace perfect our nature, to live lives of hope and joyful service, so that after our earthly life we may, in the company of the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the saints, sing the praises of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. To whom be ascribed, as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now and forever. Amen.