Link to the video reflection: https://youtu.be/iI-EuYhFtxc
Galatians 4:4-7, Luke 1:46-55
In the name of the God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen
This week started with remembering Mary Sumner on 9th August. Mary was the founder of the Mother’s union – This year that organisation is marking 145 years from the very first meeting in 1876 and her feast day fell on the 100th anniversary of her death.
From the start Mother’s Union was to unite mothers irrespective of their social status, around bringing up children in the Christian faith. (This ignoring of social status was very radical for the times!!) Family and parental responsibility as role models have been extremely important to this organisation over all those years. There has not been much drift. The Mother’s Union today as a global organisation has 5 aims to:-
encourage parents in their role to develop the faith of their children.
maintain a worldwide fellowship of Christians united in prayer, worship and service.
promote conditions in society favourable to stable family life and the protection of children.
help those whose family life has met with adversity.
promote and support married life.
We should take a moment to be thankful for the Mother’s Union in this place. Generations of families that have been supported over the years. We give thanks for our existing group too led by Kath White. It was great to have a social gathering recently for the first time in a long time. Commitment to prayer, service and family life is an important foundation for us.
And then moving to the end of the week, we move to thinking about another Mary – this time we remember the Blessed Virgin Mary. Another person we associate pretty uniquely with family life as the mother of Jesus. Mary was a constant in his earthly life, and who saw it all from his birth through to his death and resurrection. We often get the phrase and she pondered these things in her heart – so we surmise Mary to be a reflective and thoughtful person. It is worth thinking about how she responded to God’s call on her life.
Our readings today began with one from St Paul’s letter to the Galatians. It explained how Mary’s role came to be. There is something very satisfying in understanding the phrase ‘when the fullness of time had come’. This indicates the momentousness of what was happening at this point. Literally changing everything for ever!!!
On Sunday, we will remember these events through our first hymn – A great and mighty wonder. I know it was a bit Christmassy for August! but it made the point well, describing Jesus birth as a great and mighty wonder. (It could have been worse – I nearly picked the carol Once in Royal David’s city – But I struggled with the description of Mary as ‘mild!’). I was much happier with Mary being described as honourable and pure!
Going to her purity reminds us of the absolute jeopardy for Mary in undertaking what God had planned for her. Her “Yes” to God which we think about was without recourse to her own safety and security. Though God fixed this with Joseph so it didn’t happen – had Joseph disowned her Mary could have been stoned to death at worse and been an outcast from her family at best. It cannot have been an easy “Yes” with this in the back of Mary’s mind and yet it was an emphatic “Yes”.
It was a “Yes” of faith in the face of a profound mystical experience. A young girl in conversation with an angel – was not and is not an every day occurrence. Just to reiterate – What is happening here – God does not want to adopt a human child and have it raised as his own. God wants to come and join the human race as one of his own. God has chosen the role of father in the human process, so there can be no question that the child to be born is both human and divine. This is necessary so we can all be children of God too as was described in our reading from Galatians.
Moving on to our gospel reading next, this passage we attribute to Mary that is well known and profound. The stuff of every day for me in the cycle of evening prayer, as these words form the Magnificat. It is important to remember it is not the reflection of young Mary in the moments around Gabriel’s visit, but some time later when she has had time to think about it and when she encounters her cousin Elizabeth.
It is conjecture on my part but the similarities between Mary’s words and the words of Hannah at the start of the first book of Samuel cannot be overlooked. The circumstances are different but some of the sentiments are similar. Mary’s thoughtfulness and pondering may have taken some of Hannah’s statement into her own words made to her cousin. Whatever, they are words worth pondering
Let’s pick up a few themes within what Mary says as food for thought today.
Firstly Mary speaks from deep thankfulness with a tinge of awe and amazement. She was a very insignificant person in the grand scheme of things, on the margins, not just loved by God but chosen by God in this very special way.
There is also a deep sense of her humility in the face of wonder. She understands her lowliness and yet articulates how generations to come will called her blessed.
Mary has also been thinking about the implications of the coming Messiah. Like many of her day Mary was expecting the Messiah to come in power and strength to overcome all the difficulties of their present! And yet on reflection Mary’s words show her heart had reached a different conclusion. In a nutshell, she prophesies it as good news for the poor and humble, and bad news for the powerful, proud and wealthy. Indeed Jesus did challenge the powerful of his day be it the Pharisees, Pilate or Herod. Those who were arrogant, abused their power or were caught out in hypocrisy were also confronted.
Another key concept in all this for Mary was mercy and in particular the mercy of God. Mercy is about compassion, kindness and forgiveness. It is quite the opposite of what drives arrogance or hypocrisy. What Mary particularly draws our attention to is the mercy of God, which goes right back to our forebears, to Abraham and is with us into our future, most importantly forever.
God’s mercy is something we should look for and live for as Mary did, as we live modelling a merciful, compassionate and kind approach in our dealings with each other, each nation and our world. Ultimately the judgement and justice in all this is God’s and God’s mercy will always be wider and brighter than we can ask or imagine.
Finally as we reflect on Mary’s words we do see her recognising God’s hand in her life, even in the face of great potential jeopardy as I observed earlier. Mary says the Mighty One has done great things for me. God’s work in Mary was specific, significant and special. The same is true of each of us – we may not be as centre stage in the action as she was in her day, yet we each have a unique and special role to play in God’s world. We will do it better too with thankfulness, with humble hearts and seeking God’s mercy
Both our Mary’s today, Mary the mother of Jesus and Mary Sumner made a big and lasting difference, were thoughtful and reflective and followed God’s call on their heart and their lives. Let’s end with a prayer to do likewise inspired by Mary’s words of praise and wonder in Luke’s gospel.
O Lord, our hearts praise you, our souls are glad because you are our Saviour, because you have remembered us, your servants; because you have shown mercy to all who honour you. We praise you because of all the great things you have done for us. Help us to follow the calling you have for us as Blessed Mary and Mary Sumner did in their hearts and their lives. Amen
References – https://www.mothersunion.org/our-vision, New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995, CCLI – Song words – A great and mighty wonder reproduced under CCLI 217043 for St Peter and St Paul’s Church Wincanton, Prayer adapted © ROOTS for Churches Ltd (www