Sermon: St Mary the Virgin

Heavenly birthdays. You may be aware that the date we celebrate a saint is not on their birthday but on the day they died. That is considered the day they entered heaven or their heavenly birthday. However, there are two that Holy Scripture tells us did not die. For ten years off of purgatory, can anyone name those two saints? Enoch and Elijah.

For Enoch, we read in Genesis, “When Enoch had lived 65 years, he became the father of Methuselah.  After he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked faithfully with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters.  Altogether, Enoch lived a total of 365 years. Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.” And Paul tells us in his letter to the Hebrews, “By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death.” Elijah, we learn about in 2 Kings as he was carried away in a fiery chariot. The term used to describe these events is an assumption or, to be assumed, taken up. The difference between Jesus’ ascension and the assumption of Enoch and Elijah is that whereas Jesus achieved heaven on his own power, Enoch and Elijah were carried up by God.

Today, we celebrate the Blessed Virgin Mary (her feast day was officially on Monday). For some, this is a heavenly birthday, the day of her death; however, for others who have more high church leanings, this is the celebration of the Assumption of Mary or the “falling asleep of Mary.” Although not attested to in Holy Scripture, the latter group believes that, like Enoch and Elijah, Mary never tasted death, but was carried up, assumed into heaven. Read carefully you will note that our collect of the day that we prayed is ambiguous enough to satisfy both groups, “O God, you have taken to yourself the blessed Virgin Mary, mother of your incarnate Son: Grant that we, who have been redeemed by his blood, may share with her the glory of your eternal kingdom.”

For Roman Catholics, Pope Pius XII decided on the matter when in 1950, he stated, “By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.” The thought is, why would God allow the body of Mary, the one who bore his Son, to be corrupted by death?

For us, whether dogma or “pious opinion,” our salvation is not dependent upon confessing Mary’s assumption. Our salvation is found solely in her Son, Jesus, but there is no denying the fact that she plays a role in that salvation, for it was her “Yes” to God that allowed Jesus to be born into the world, which makes her song, The Magnificat, also our song.

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
    for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
    the Almighty has done great things for me,
    and holy is his Name.

Not only did God look with favor upon Mary, He—through Jesus—looks with favor upon us. She is ever blessed, and so are we. He did great things through and for her, just as he has done great things through and for us; so, like Mary, we too proclaim the greatness of the Lord.

4 Replies to “Sermon: St Mary the Virgin”

  1. I grew up in rural United Methodist parsonages in southern Georgia. United Methodism in rural Georgia is like the old joke that Methodists are “Baptists who can read.” Somehow, the appeal of Roman Catholicism seized me. I became an Episcopalian at age 18.

    I recall the time, when I was 22, that I realized how Catholic I had become. I was sitting at a table in a food court in a shopping mall in Brunswick, Georgia. My mother was there. So was one of her co-workers, a Protestant. I had just purchased a double-CD set of arrangements of the Stabat Mater. The co-worker dismissed giving St. Mary much attention and said that she had died, like everyone else. I blurted out an affirmation of the assumption. That went down about as well as you may guess.

    But I knew how Catholic I had become.

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