Sermons & services

The Falling Asleep Of Our Lady St Mary

Published Monday 17th Aug. 2020, at 3:59 p.m.

One of the most remarkable women of the 20th century was, in my humble opinion, the late Queen Mother. Yes, she came from a privileged background, and yes, she had a privileged upbringing and life. But nothing had prepared her for taking on the role of Queen of the nation after the abdication of Edward VIII. And yet it was a role she made her own, and the nation loved her for it. I remember so well when she died. Saturday, March 30th, 2002. It was the evening of the Easter vigil: that great celebration of Christ’s victory over sin and death. So getting the mood right over that Easter weekend was not easy in the midst of Paschal celebration, but national mourning. Do you remember the queues to view her body lying in state? People queued for hours, snaking along the embankment and over to the South Bank. It was a testament to the honour in which she was held by so many people in a grateful nation. And it’s interesting that so much honour was given her, throughout her long years as Queen Mother, as people remembered her service to the nation and to her daughter, the Queen. I mention this because today we celebrate what should be the principle feast of Our Lady St Mary. Saints days normally mark the time when the saint died and today is the day when we mark the moment when Mary dies and is taken up into heaven. Whether we call it the Assumption (as in the West), or the Dormition (as in the East), or the Falling Asleep of the Blessed Virgin Mary (in various editions of the Prayer Book), today is the day we celebrate Mary’s passage to heaven. And we honour her as the Mother of Jesus. After all, she is, in effect, the Queen Mother. As Jesus is Lord and King, and Mary is his mother, so she is Queen Mother. And this is a theme we see played out in the Old Testament. When lists are made of the kings of Israel or Judah, also named alongside the new king, is their Queen mother. And the best example of this honour, is in the Book of Kings where Bathsheba, after the death of King David, sits alongside King Solomon as a mark of her position as Queen Mother. It’s one of the reasons Christians have honoured Mary from very early on, as she herself clearly states they will in Luke’s Gospel: From this day all generations shall call me blessed. We will honour Mary as the Mother of the Lord, whose ‘Yes’ to the angel Gabriel brought about our salvation. Mary needn’t have said yes. She was a creature with free will just like you and me. But whereas we have a bad habit of saying No to God, Mary’s life, full of grace, was a complete Yes to God. She therefore stands as an example of what Christian life should look: with God at the centre, at all times. And her Yes to God is something she asks us to imitate. Do what he tells you, she says to the stewards at the wedding feast at Cana, the moment of Jesus’ first miracle. For though Mary is honoured – particularly during Advent and Christmas in Anglican hymnology – she always points us away from herself and towards her Son. Do what he tells you, is at the heart of one of the most famous icons in the Eastern Church: the Virgin Hodigitria. Mary, the Pointer of the Way. She always directs us to Jesus. And that is the point of today’s feast. Like all other beliefs about Mary, they are not really about her, so much as they point us towards, and help reinforce, our beliefs about Jesus. Because, and I know I’ve said this before, 2,000 years of Christian belief are a heck of a spoiler alert when it comes to the person of Jesus. As much as we might try, we can’t but know that Jesus is truly human and truly divine: it’s what we’ve been taught from our very earliest Christian teaching (at least I hope so). So Christ’s Resurrection won’t have the impact on us, as it did on those first followers of Jesus who actually witnessed the event. How could it? So how can I believe that what happened to Jesus – that he passed through death and came out the other side in a new Resurrection body – will happen to us? To truly ordinary human beings just like you and me: 100 per cent creature with not the slightest whiff of divinity in us? The answer – or at least one of the answers – is this feast where Mary is taken into heaven as yet another spoiler, showing us in herself what will be our future. Us. In heaven. Body and soul. In glory. For all eternity. Sharing the divine life of God. Just as Christ is the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep, so those who belong to him will also share in that glory at the end of all things when Christ comes again in glory. Where Christ has taken Our Lady St Mary so, too, will we come. Amen.