Thought for the week - The Assumption
The commemoration of the death of the Blessed Virgin Mary (the Dormition, or falling asleep, as it was known in the East) is known as the Assumption because of the tradition that her body did not decay but that she was raised up, body and soul, into heaven. This tradition was already present in the sixth century; by the beginning of the twentieth century, it was widespread; and after consulting the views of bishops all over the world, in 1950 Pope Pius 12th formally and infallibly declared the doctrine of the Assumption to be part of the authentic and ancient doctrine of the universal Church.
The doctrine is accepted and celebrated by the majority of Christians including Orthodox of East and West, some Anglicans, and Lutherans.
The Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, which seeks to identify common ground between the two communions, released in 2004 a non-authoritative declaration meant for study and evaluation, the "Seattle Statement"; this "agreed statement" concludes that "the teaching about Mary in the two definitions of the Assumption and the Immaculate Conception, understood within the biblical pattern of the economy of hope and grace, can be said to be consonant with the teaching of the Scriptures and the ancient common traditions".
In the Lutheran Church, in the service book the celebration is known as "St. Mary, Mother of our Lord."
The theology of the celebration in Pius XII's dogmatic statement, is contained in the phrase
We proclaim and define it to be a dogma revealed by God that the immaculate Mother of God, Mary ever virgin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into the glory of heaven.”
Mary the Mother of God, so intimately linked through the sharing of flesh from her flesh, now shares, body and soul, the glory of her son in Heaven.
Ok. That’s the theology, the theory if you like together with an authoritative statement of the fact that it is ok, for Anglicans, along with the majority of Christians, to celebrate this feast.
Well, so what? What is the effect if you like, for you and me?
Each Sunday we say or sing the Creed, the Apostles’, or Nicene. The Creeds are definitive statements of what we as Christians believe. In the Creed, we say we believe in the “Resurrection of the body.” In other words, at the end of time, we shall be recognisable again in our Resurrection bodies. I will be me; you will be you. The doctrine of the Assumption that we celebrate today simply states and celebrates the truth that Mary, the physical Mother of Jesus, the Mother of God, because of her intimate connection to Jesus, her shared flesh with him, receives that gift in advance of the rest of humanity. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and is now alive in heaven, with his blessed Mother at his side. To deny that is rather like saying to Mary “Well if I can’t have it yet, neither should you.” Let us rather rejoice with Mary, enjoy the party, and look forward to sharing that gift with her.
So how do we get into the party? Jesus invites us and there is no charge, but as with Mary, we are invited, not forced, but invited to co-operate with God. Mary said yes to God and to join the party so must we.
Mary shows us the way in our Gospel reading, in that great song of hers that we echo every day at Evening Prayer.
Like Mary we must magnify God – we must make him larger in our lives. We are called to rejoice in the only one who can save us from ourselves. We must acknowledge only through Him are we blessed, that all we have comes from Him and Him alone.
If it is our deepest desire to live forever with our loved ones then that can only be through responding to God as did Mary, like Mary, we must open ourselves to His will. Mary could have taken the easy way – she could have said no to God – and who could blame her if she did – but then there would have been no salvation, no eternal life for you and me.
Many of us have, over this long and difficult pandemic grown away from God – not just physically as we have been forced to do, but spiritually. And now, even though some must still be away from our larger celebrations, there are those who have not returned to the worship, the magnification of Almighty God.
In a few moments we shall say again those words from the Creed – as you do so, enjoy the vision of the happiness of Mary, and long one day to share that joy.
But above all, those who are here, encourage others to come back and like Mary, to say yes to God.
Those who are not yet returned – when will you come? there are plenty of opportunities even other than on Sundays. There is a loving party waiting for you here and now, and an even greater party in the time to come, and Mary longs to have your company at both.