Sermon by Fr Andrew Starky 16 August 2015

Assumption 2015 Isaiah 61: 10-11, Galatians 4: 4-7, Luke1: 46-55

Hail Mary full of grace the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women and blessed 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.

One of the things that stand out for Anglicans coming to St Michael’s for the first time is the attention we give to the Blessed Virgin Mary. In every Mass we either say the Hail Mary at the intercessions or the Angelus at the end. Each day the Angelus is said before Morning Prayer and rung before Mass and at noon by the school.

About ten years ago I did the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius. Being a Roman Catholic setting Mary’s place was taken for granted. My spiritual universe had no room for this and I found it quite confronting. Actually I was quite resistant to it. The genius of the Ignatian Exercises is that they pay attention to resistances as well as desires. Ignatius understood that the seeds of spiritual growth can often be found among our resistances. As Mary says in her song, “He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones.”

God must have been thinking well ahead because seven years later I would find myself the Vicar of St Michael’s where devotion to Mary is a pivotal part of Church life. It is good for us to realise that the bulk of Christians worldwide are Orthodox and Roman Catholics who take the place of Mary very much for granted as do Anglo Catholics. Even though the 1662 Book of Common Prayer retained almost all the Catholic feasts of Mary most Anglican Churches do not reflect this. In this diocese and province, Marian devotion is unusual. Parishes that reflect this spirituality stand out. For this reason we can’t take devotion to Mary for granted. We must be prepared to say why it is important, not simply for us, but for the whole Church.

It is clear from patristic writings that the understanding of Mary as God bearer Theotokos was pivotal in the formation of the creeds and doctrines about the incarnation by the early Church. Whenever we say the Angelus or the Hail Mary we celebrate the incarnation. The incarnation means that, for love, God became involved as one of us, sharing our material form. One implication of God’s foray into the material world is that the church began to make icons. They are like windows to the divine. Icons in this church include also the stained glass windows and the statues of Mary. Some people seek to destroy icons because they reject or fear the involvement of God in the material world: they want to keep God at a distance. In our present age Islamic fundamentalists are doing this. Christians have also done this in the past fearing idolatry. When God is kept at a distance like this; usually compassion is at an even greater distance.

The incarnation means, as Paul says in Galatians, that we are adopted children of God, indeed heirs through Christ. All Christians would subscribe to this at an intellectual level, but there is a risk that having assented with our minds, God remains as distant as ever in practice.

Marian devotion calls us to make this truth part of our ethos. In Anglican tradition Mary’s song, known as the Magnificat, has had an honoured place being said or sung daily at Evensong. Mary’s song describes the ethos of a catholic church where the joyful worship of God rises from our very being in response to God’s restoration of our human dignity in the incarnation. “He has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.”

Mary’s song is a very personal song. “Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me and holy is his name.” We worship a God who is interested in the details of our life and wants to do great things for us.

Mary’s song is prophetic because it foretells the future devotion the church will have for her which has gone on for thousands of years. Mary was a young and vulnerable woman living in a backwater of the Roman Empire. She consented to be the first person to receive Christ. Because of God’s favour and the faith and courage of her response we continue to bless her as does God who received her into heaven in the Assumption.

Mary’s Song is also prophetic because it foretells Gods intention to upend oppressive power relationships. This was a key feature of Jesus’ ministry and it underpins the care and social justice efforts of the church. For those who labour under injustice Mary’s song gives hope that God will act to lift up the lowly and fill the hungry with good things. Mary’s femininity and maternity, remind us that women and children are over represented among the lowly and hungry. True Marian devotion always inspires the church towards helping the poor including advocating for them while giving it courage to resist the threats of the powerful and rich.

When we light a candle in front of the statue of Our Lady of Walsingham we ask Our Lady Mary to pray for us. In the creed we say we believe in the communion of saints. This is a living and present body in heaven that surrounds us, the church on earth. When we have a particular problem or challenge to address any Christian would feel comfortable ask another to pray for them: We do it all the time. Asking a saint to pray for us is the same thing. Saints though, are more reliable intercessors because they have nothing else to do but to surround the throne of God with their prayers. They don’t forget; they don’t sleep; they don’t get distracted. It is a particular comfort to know that Mary, the Queen of Heaven, is praying for us now in this Eucharist and even at the hour of our death.

Devotion to Mary keeps the church grounded in the incarnation in its theology, its life and mission and its spirituality. Once a year we specially remember that, but every day we say,
Hail Mary full of grace the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women and blessed 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.