Mary ~ Heart speaking to Heart
Preacher: Canon Neil Thompson, Precentor
15 August 2010, 10:30 (Blessed Virgin Mary)
Humankind cannot bear very much reality – so wrote T.S. Eliot in a passage from The Four Quartets.
But what does that mean for us? Have you come to the cathedral this morning to see the world more clearly or to escape from the strains of life and find refreshment, support and hope?
Do you hope or expect to find answers to the perplexing events that overcome the world and individual lives or to seek God’s help in seeing our understanding and solutions put into practice?
As we confront the news this mid-August with its backdrop of
the cataclysmic suffering of Pakistan,
the horrors of the mudslides in northern China,
the never-ending bloodshed and slaughter in Afghanistan
- and the ever present poverty, disease and oppression of so many on our planet, we have heart ache a-plenty.
At the same time we are privileged to live with wealth and comfort that can experience holidays and carefree summer days.
And here in our worship as part of the family of God, religion has
has big, big questions to address and also to relate to the joy, renewal and refreshment of humankind.
Today on August 15, we celebrate the Blessed Virgin Mary. Why?
Million upon million Christians honour and value her but we in the Church of England are divided.
Some Anglicans are very guarded or even hostile to any kind of emphasis on Mary as part of our life of prayer, worship and service.
However, this cathedral’s reformation dedication was changed to Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary, and in this land before and after the reformation, Our Lady has been a precious and intrinsic part of English spirituality.
Why is this so?
Because amidst the uncertainty and fragility of life, we are created and loved and held in relationship by God who is in himself love and relationship.
And the life of faith is not just a matter of our minds and wills, it is also to do with the powerful and realm of emotions, affection and feelings.
We use language and human concepts because that is all have to share and learn and grow in reason and emotion.
Yet our images of God and his divine power are very male and logical whereas Mary’s life and role are submissive, intuitive and affective.
In this way, the Blessed Virgin, Our Lady, challenges us with many things and above all in those words of the Magnificat that we heard as our Gospel reading.
The Song of Mary is familiar to so many of us yet the words are unequivocally about the radical and subversive re-ordering of human society.
Now where does Mary fit in with this manifesto?
In her ecstatic song of the Spirit, she sings of what the rule and power of God brings to our world and human societies.
In Jesus a new world is born – and the powers and order of the present age are to be radically changed so as to conform to the will and justice of God and his love.
That is the meaning and reality of the incarnation, the birth of Christ.
God’s kingdom has come near and it changes our perspectives, our values and our understanding of truth and order.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud
in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
These words must penetrate our minds and our understanding, our power and our politics.
Jesus’ mother is not an optional part of the story of salvation and her words are essential to the agenda of the world this morning
Her life and prayers are a testimony to this reversal; her life and prayers are a parallel and complementary truth to the realm of reason, logic and egocentric value.
This is not an option for Christians.
It is part of a truth that can claim us but which we can never control or even fully understand.
In Jesus God has shared our humanity including the experience of being conceived and born and literally held for nine months in Mary’s womb.
This extraordinary and paradoxical truth of the God the eternal taking flesh means that he submits himself to the unique relationship that a child has with his or her mother.
Yes, all of us have a human mother and have experienced our first existence in her womb.
In Mary’s womb, Jesus would have heard her heart beat and she would have felt his long before his birth.
Literally heart speaks unto heart.
This phrase is the theme of this year’s papal visit to Britain and is the motto, cor ad cor loquitur, chosen by John Henry Newman to go on his cardinal’s coat of arms.
Relationships are forged in our hearts as well as our minds, and the closest and most precious relationships are of this nature, where heart speaks to heart.
God’s love for us and ours for him is completed by this mystery which is the prayer of union.
We are lost to ourselves because we are found and absorbed by the one who loves us and to whom we submit in our love for them.
This is not just what Mary teaches us, it is what she shares with us and leads us and protects us with.
Through our humanity, we experience the maternal love of God through Jesus’ mother.
So Mary is not just an instrument of nature to bring God in Jesus into the world.
She is the prayer, the union of God and humanity, who obeys, submits and loves him to his death on the cross.
Our individual prayers are always inadequate and incomplete, and are complemented and transformed by the prayers of others.
The prayers of Mary are indeed the real and tangible protection and succour that she gave not just to Jesus but to all who love her Son.
Her prayer is our heartbeat and that union of humility and love that she showed as the first disciple of Jesus in bringing him to birth, teaching and sustaining him into adulthood and always being near even at the foot of the cross.
Here is prayer that absorbs, protects and needs no words or reason.
It is part of that unconditional love that we know to come from God and which is expressed in the unique relationship of a mother with her children.
The prayer that is the life of Mary is the prayer that does not need words and perhaps not even thoughts.
It is this mysterious love and union that forms the bond of mother and child that is shared and universalised in her role as mother of the Saviour, Mother of God.
So on this day, when so many Christians celebrate Mary’s death when she is taken fully into the kingdom of her Son, please find time to go to the Lady Chapel and look at and touch the carving of Jesus and his mother.
She holds him, newly born and subject to all the threats of this world – our world of 2010 with its bombs and floods and hunger, tyranny, drugs, disease and oppression.
She offers us the Word made flesh; he lies in her arms in birth and in death.
Receive from Mary this love and life of Christ; she is indeed blessed and we like all other generations must call her so.
May heart speak unto heart.
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you.
Blessèd are you among women,
and blessèd is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners,
now, and at the hour of our death. Amen.