Thursday, August 16, 2012

Mother's Day in August

Rev. John Beddingfield
August 15 is a curious day in Christian calendars.  For Roman Catholics, it is the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a day celebrating the mystical way in which Mary is believed to have been taken up into the fullness of God.  For the Orthodox, it is the Dormition, or “falling asleep” of Mary, the Mother of God.  As Anglicans, we are guided to a middle place by our Book of Common Prayer which names the day, “Saint Mary the Virgin, Mother of Our Lord Jesus Christ.” Even though the fifteenth has come and gone, the Church often encourages us to stretch a major feast for eight days, and I think we can learn something about God’s love and purpose for us by reflecting on Mary.
Some may feel that talk of Mary is a “Roman Catholic thing.” But the last decade or so has brought renewed interest in Mary from Protestants and Evangelicals. Beverly Gaventa, a Presbyterian scholar, suggests that there are at least three ways Mary can be a model for us and can help us grow in our relationship with Jesus Christ.  

First, there is what Gaventa calls “the vulnerability of Mary.” Mary allows God to direct her life.  She is obedient in the truest sense of that term, but her obedience in no way takes away her strength, her agency, her feistiness, or her strong-mindedness. (Recall that at Cana, it’s Mary who tells Jesus, “Do something.  Try to be helpful.”) 

Second, Mary is able to reflect theologically on the events in her life.  That is no small thing.  Mary NOTICES what was going on around her, and slowly but surely, realizes what God is unfolding in her life and in the world.  She pauses. She looks.  She listens.

And finally, Mary can teach us what it means to be a witness to Jesus.  We see this depicted in the classic icon showing the Blessed Virgin Mary with Baby Jesus on her lap.  Mary points to Christ as if to say, “Listen to him.  Watch him.  Do what he says.  He is the way.” 

Whether we understand her as Mother of Jesus, Mother of God, or a teenaged single mother of First Century Palestine, I think Mary deserves a “Mother’s Day” of sorts, and August 15 is as good as any.  May God help us to be faithful like Mary, so that we too might be brought to heaven, raised high with saints and angels, and behold the risen Christ face to face.

(For more information, see Beverly Gaventa’s books, Mary: Glimpses of the Mother of Jesus, 1999 and Blessed One: Protestant Perspectives on Mary, 2002.  Also see John Macquarrie, Mary for All Christians, 2001.  A fun, evangelical perspective is by Shannon Kubiak, God Called a Girl: How Mary Changed Her World and You Can Too, 2008).
John Beddingfield is the rector at All Souls Memorial Episcopal Church in Washington, DC.