Sometimes the liturgical year is not my friend. Normally, I love that we follow this calendar – that we mark the year with seasons that are not about the changing of the weather but about the colours of the liturgical season – that within those seasons we mark Saints – those we have come before us in this faith – who have tread a path so that we might follow their witness. We remember those who said yes before we did. Like Mary.
Mary was the very first to say yes to Jesus. And her witness was remarkable – so we continue to remember her and the many ways that she said yes – from Jesus birth through to his death. We recall the courage that her yes took, the remarkable strength she must have had first to bear her son at all, through to raising her precocious child who clearly had a mind of his own, to asking him to sort out the wine at a wedding, to witnessing the horrific death of her beloved boy on the cross.
Strength and resilience and courage; her witness is truly remarkable. And so we honour her in this calendar of ours with a day set aside just for her and for us to meditate on her witness – and I have no idea what to say.
It’s not that her greatness is lost on me. In fact I am humbled by her story – or at least what I know if it.
And did you know that we know more about her, this Mary, mother of Jesus, than we know about many of the characters in the New Testament? I found this really fun little list of things that this fellow Scott McKnight has compiled about Mary and so I learned some things that I already knew like, we know her husband’s name, that her cousin was Elizabeth who also bore a son, that her song in response to God’s ask was this beautiful piece that we heard in the reading from Luke just now, that she had at least one other son called James, that she was at the wedding at Cana where she demanded that Jesus get more wine sorted out for the guests and we know that she was at the crucifixion of her son.
And I sat all week wondering where to begin to talk about her. The problem and the gift of the liturgical calendar is that we don’t get to choose which days or weeks we reflect on particular readings. There they are and like a frustrating, beautiful surprise these saints and these readings lay before us.
I just feel really small at the feet of Mary, wondering what we learn from our mothers that we carry through our lives and why the church has used words like meek and mild to describe this incredible, bold woman?
Nothing about her story is meek or mild to me.
Why has her sexual history has become so important to the church when there is so much more to say about her, when her story is so full of the stuff that we make great movies about, when her witness to follow is so bold?
I wonder if some of my resistance to talking about Mary is rooted in my own concern that I am not good enough to follow in her footsteps. Would I have said yes if God had come to me with such a risky proposal? I sometimes wonder.
I think I’ve said before, my preference is not necessarily for the hard road. I sometimes wonder what I would do if I were in a place where Christians were persecuted – if I had to defend my self for my faith – if my witness were to be tested.
Would I respond like Mary did? Would I sing about how my soul magnifies the Lord and how my Spirit rejoices?
I want to say yes. I want to sit at the feet of Mary and of the other bold women in scripture and follow in their witness. I want to be bold in my response to God and clear in my path to follow Jesus.
I want to be fearless in my response. But the truth is that I do not live in a place – at least right now – that requires me to be all that bold. I am allowed to follow Jesus. I am allowed to be a woman in this church who stands at the altar. I get to serve in a church that has elected a woman Bishop – and she wasn’t the only incredible and talented woman in the running. I live in a marriage that regards me as an equal partner and I have the right – in fact I have the obligation to vote.
And so, I am left reflecting on what it means for me to follow when I clearly hold power.
How do I honour the witness of Mary? What does it mean for me to say yes to God? When you hear the song of Mary, what do you hear? What does she describe?
Bringing down the powerful from their thrones – filling the hungry with good things – lifting the lowly. These are things that Mary sings about. Even in the very choice of Mary it is clear – God isn’t interested in traditional forms of influence. Jesus, even from his very beginning, isn’t going start in a place of positional power. And so in honouring Mary, I think we are invited to take account of our own power and influence.
The witness of Mary as the one who bore, raised and witnessed the death of Jesus is profound in forming our own response because she was the first to say yes.
Mary’s yes has the power to shape our own if we let it.
So when you think about how your soul magnifies the Lord, what does that look like? And do you hear the rest of the words? What do they mean for you? When you think about how we have upheld Mary’s witness in the church – what do you want to talk about? What do you wonder about?
Today we are given thegift of our calendar, to think about all of these things. About Mary. We as members of this incredibly privileged part of the world get to consider what standing in this tradition and following the Jesus that Mary birthed, means for us and how our witness reflects of Mary’s yes.