Rev 11:19a; 12:1-6a,10ab • 1 Cor 15:20-27 • Lk 1:39-56
There is a legend about the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark disappeared in the destruction of Solomon’s Temple by Nebuchadnezzar in 587 B.C. The legend says that the prophet Jeremiah hid the Ark so that it would be available on the day Israel was restored to glory and that it would remain hidden “until God gathers his people together again and shows them mercy. At that time he will reveal where these things are hidden. . .” (2 Mc 2:7-8). Our Solemnity begins with Revelation saying that “God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant could be seen” — clearly a statement that God has arrived.
Mary occupied a special place in the hearts of the early Christians. She was Jesus’ mother, but the early Christians also described Mary as Jesus’ first disciple. By the time the Gospels were written, she had become a model of Christian discipleship. Luke therefore presents Mary as a symbol of the things God has done for us, and what our response to God should be.
The story of Mary and Elizabeth was not fashioned by Luke to be an historical account of their meeting; he used it to demonstrate how a Christian should react to the blessings of God. Elizabeth’s greeting was not a statement about a baby yet to be born. When she declared, “Blessed is the fruit of your womb,” Elizabeth was not speaking about an unborn baby, but of the consequences of the Resurrection. The fruit of Mary’s womb is the defeat of sin and death. It is the promise of the Resurrection. Luke, at the very beginning of his Gospel, is giving us a taste of what is to come.
Luke, in speaking of the consequences of the Resurrection, gives us the Magnificat, one of the most beautiful hymns of Scripture. With it Luke teaches us about being a disciple. Mary spoke of being a lowly servant. For Luke, lowliness is an objective condition. To be lowly is to be poor. God has looked upon the poor, and so must we!
Luke teaches us more through his play on words. He contrasts “lowly” with “the proud in their conceit.” He has given us Mary in her poverty as a contrast to the rich and arrogant of the world. God has arrived and sided with the poor, and God will destroy those who would harm the poor! Defending the poor is part of being a disciple.
Revelation is the most misunderstood and misused book of the Bible. All too often it is used to scare people and to predict end-of-the-world scenarios. The writer of Revelation does scare his readers to a degree, but the real purpose of Revelation is to impart strength and courage. The Christian community had seen some persecution, and Revelation predicted much more. Today’s familiar passage is about God’s ultimate triumph over the forces of evil intends to help us stay faithful despite assaults on our efforts to be holy. The Ark is again visible in our midst! God is with us! We should not fear.
We certainly do see an image of Mary in the woman “clothed with the sun,” but Revelation wants us to see Israel as she gives birth to a savior and then see that it is the Church that now sustains those who follow the Messiah. The dragon is none other than the serpent of Genesis returned to finish us off; but God intervenes, and the Church, though fled into the desert, is protected by God. (It is helpful to know that in the Old Testament the desert was a traditional place of refuge for the persecuted.)
It should be no surprise that the Gospels would borrow the person of Mary and instead of giving us hard facts about her life and history, use her instead as a symbol. Mary must have been a wonderful woman who was gentle and humble of heart. She sought to serve God and, used as a symbol, she continues to serve her Son in our day.
It stands to reason that Mary became the example of the reward offered to all faithful followers of Jesus — the reward we celebrate today. We believe that faithful followers of Christ will be glorified by Christ. Mary is used to offer us a vision of the glory to come. She has already been glorified and raised to impress upon us what God offers all of us. The Assumption is not a new belief. It was believed by Christians from day one.
How do we share this reward? Mary made it clear she did nothing on her own to be called “blessed.” As far as she was concerned, it was God’s action in her life that made her “blessed.” Mary’s response was to be a servant, and today this model is ours. We are called to serve. Luke suggests we are to side with the poor. As a consequence, what God has done for Mary is something God promises to do for us.
FATHER STEINER, born and reared in Chattanooga, Tenn., is a priest of the Diocese of Nashville. He currently serves as rector of the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Nashville. Previously, he served in the diocesan high school as teacher, associate principal, and principal. He received his education from St. Meinrad Seminary in Indiana, the Gregorian University in Rome, and The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.