‘Blessed is she who believed.’
How fortunate, how blessed we are to have things like this – the Assumption of Mary – to believe in and feed our souls on! This is something so beautiful. It’s something so hopeful. ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good.’ Mary’s taking-up lifts us up, makes us ‘attentive to the things that are above’ (Collect). Let’s en-joy it, enter into the joy of it!
‘Today Mary has been taken up into heaven; all the choirs of angels are rejoicing.’
‘My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.’ Mary enters, body, soul and spirit, into the joy of her Lord and Saviour, her Son, her Beloved. And it’s as if a tremor of joy runs through the whole universe and reverberates in us, here, in this vale of tears, in hac lacrimarum valle.
‘Today a great sign appears in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun’, ‘a sign of sure hope and comfort to [God’s] pilgrim people’ (Preface), a sign of someone very close to us – a queen now, yes, but ‘more mother than queen’, and not just a mother either, but a companion, a sister, a friend.
‘Blessed is she who believed’, and what a blessing to have faith in these things!
Today’s readings are all from the New Testament. That’s a feature of the readings of Eastertide. It’s a sign that this is Mary’s Easter. Today, as the Eastern Christians like to say, Mary fell asleep: she died. And she was taken up, body and soul into heaven: she was raised. This is Mary’s personal passover, her journey from death to life, her share in the death and resurrection of her Son. It’s the deployment in her of the grace of Good Friday and Easter, Ascension and Pentecost. And she’s a sign that what happened to Jesus – his passage from death to life – was not something simply private, something just between him and his heavenly Father, or something one-off or locked in the past. It is something for ever and for now. It’s something into which all of us are invited: the whole Church, all humanity, the whole universe. It’s something into which the whole of us is invited, body and soul. This isn’t exaggeration; it’s the New Testament. Christ’s Passover, his Easter, is the mould, if you like, into which all our lives are to be poured if they’re to reach their goal, be real and substantial, not just a cry in the night or water in the sand. Our passover begins at baptism, is lived out in spiritual combat and prayer, is fed by the Eucharist, completed at death and consummated at the general resurrection. Today, in the power of Christ’s risen body, Mary passes beyond death and corruption and judgement, ‘passes within the palace of the king’, into the Age to come, into the world of the Resurrection. ‘On your right hand stands the queen in gold of Ophir’. And at that same right hand a place is waiting for us.
‘Blessed is she who believed.’ And blessed are we to be shown such a horizon, such a direction!
Today’s Gospel takes us back to an early moment in Mary’s life – her visit to Elizabeth. This is the first of Mary’s journeys that Scripture mentions. It’s a journey upwards ‘to a town in the hill country of Judah’. It’s a journey in the direction of Jerusalem, the place where her Son would die and rise and she suffer with him. She goes newly pregnant, carrying the Lord, like the Ark of the Covenant with the Word of God inside it. She goes to be met by blessings from Elizabeth. She goes with a heart full of the praise that will burst out in the Magnificat. Her first journey. And today is her last. Today she’s taken up into the hill country of heaven, to the Jerusalem above, like the Ark carried into the Temple in the time of King Solomon. Today she’s hailed as blessed by the angels and sings her Magnificat in its ultimate form. But there is a reversal of roles. The Son she had carried and given birth to her has lived his life, fulfilled the Father’s plan, has died and been glorified. And now he carries and gives birth, in a sense, to her: opens heaven to her. In icons of the Dormition, Jesus stands by Mary who is lying asleep on a bed. He holds a little child in his arms. It’s the soul of Mary. He holds her soul, raises her body, and her long often painful pilgrimage of faith ends in glory.
‘Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death’ – the only two moments that really matter. Pray for peace, pray for comfort for all the poor people ravaged by war and disease! Pray that the horizon of hope may fill their lives. Mary prays for us. She is a force and a presence. She helps us, body and soul. She makes herself felt in a way all her own. And so, as John Paul I once said, ‘It’s impossible to conceive of our life, the life of the Church, without the Rosary, the Marian feasts, Marian shrines, images of our Lady.’ She’s elusive and close all at once. She’s close to us here as our Lady of Aberdeen. Just yesterday someone told me how twice recently our Lady had answered his prayers for sick friends, situations changing unexpectedly for the better. In her Assumption she’s the patron of this Cathedral and the chief patron of Pluscarden too. When I was ordained bishop here three years ago, I entrusted my ministry and the diocese to her. And I do so again.
Today Mary is taken up into heaven. Blessed it is to believe these things. They’re not an evasion. They’re an explanation. They put everything in context. The love of God, the forgiveness of sins, the life of the world to come: these are things of wonder. Christ is risen, and Mary with him. Let’s cherish our faith. Let it fill us body and soul. Let it be our horizon. And let’s not keep it to ourselves!