Thought for the week - 13 August
Sometimes people like to say that the Assumption of Mary is ‘not in the Bible’ and we have to accept that scriptural references are scant. The Gospel we hear today is that of the Annunciation, another feast day entirely, and that is so because there simply is not a Gospel reading that describes the Assumption in the same way as, for example, the Ascension. There is, similarly, no direct mention of the Assumption in any of the other readings we have heard today. So why keep the feast at all? Is it just a pleasantly neat way of gift wrapping the life of the Mother of God in a way that gives us all a little hope? I would like to suggest that if it were so, we should not keep the feast at all – at a funeral, I and no other Priest would say ‘they are in Heaven now’ at the end of the rites – we don’t have the capacity to make that judgement and to do so would be to contravene scripture, we have faith in the love and mercy of God, that is all. In the same way, I would have great difficulty keeping this feast if it contradicted scripture, tradition or reason.
It is reasonable to assume that Mary is bodily in heaven with her Son, I believe. It is reasonable to think that He took her to Himself in a way that maybe is a foretaste of the general resurrection of the dead, as once her womb gave life to His embryonic and developing body so His post resurrection fleshy body is united with hers in heaven. But reason is subjective, and we should turn also to tradition which supports an interpretation of scripture that accepts the dogma of the Assumption, and that tradition, with some scriptural consideration and the human reason mentioned earlier, give those of us, myself included, who would need convincing, the ability to place the teaching of the Assumption on sure foundations.
We need look no further than the next County for part of those foundations – York Minster contains pre reformation art which depicts the Assumption, and there are accounts of belief in the Assumption that dates back one thousand seven hundred years and maybe earlier, it’s hard to be precise with writings so far back. The writings of St John Damascene in his account of the Council of Chalcedon in 451AD recounts that the Virgins empty tomb was attested to then, and Pope Leo IV celebrated the Feast of the Assumption in the 800’s, but also wrote that it had at that point been kept ‘for centuries’. The reference that people occasionally make to the declaration of Pope Pius XII in 1950 of the Assumption as being a new, or invented, or modern idea is simply false, as a life lived outside of modern English church buildings will testify – and we can go to York to see this, or any number of ancient churches and monasteries in the East and the West. Dismissing the Assumption is to dismiss the faith of the church of God going back before the Great Schism – it dismisses the hope of unity as well, which is the express wish of Christ.
It is about love, as well. And the first and primary crucible of divine Love is the persons of the Trinity - the Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father and that love of the Father to the Son and the Son to the Father has a name – the Holy Spirit. The great icon showing the Holy Trinity by Rublev, now being used as a political pawn in Russia, reminds us that we can share in the love of the Trinity in which we can dance, and rejoice, and find hope for all time because that dance and hope will last forever and ever in the Kingdom of the Trinity where, this day attests, human flesh will one day reside because Mary is already there in the flesh, with her Son in the Flesh, and Rublev shows that the table the Trinity sit at has a place for us, for humanity, there as well. A place that Mary occupies first for us, to lead us to them. The Assumption shows us the way to get home, shows us the Trinity because it shows us love. Christ became human through Mary and through Mary, the love which burns in the crucible of the Trinity is opened out to humanity. We rejoice because of this love and this love will bring us home.
The Second Adam, Christ, has opened through His sacrifice on the Cross the way to heaven and Mary, the new Eve, gazes upon God in her flesh, shares in the love of the Trinity in her flesh. She is the first member of the Church, and she sits in heaven forever representative of the redeemed, restored, forgiven human race, brought home to the heart of the Trinity, sharing with them in the heavenly banquet.
The Church of God without the Assumption of Mary would be a poorer one, a less human one, and the Trinity would be less understandable for us, because as always, Mary points the way to her own Son, and she can point us to Him because she is with Him now and will be with Him forever.
Pray for us, O most holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.