Today is the Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Our Lord.
At my desk, I am watched over by an icon called “Theotokos Great Grace.” The icon features the Theotokos holding a very adolescent-looking Jesus. The two look at each other in evident adoration, and Jesus has extended his right hand to point to his mother’s lips. (It's a rather modern icon, written in the classic style, I think. It also appears to be signed, but I can't make out the signature and date.)
To me that gesture represents a kind of delicious irony, a kind of circularity to the Gospel’s witness. Aside from her magnificent Magnificat, the only words of Mary that I can recall Scripture’s reporting come from the wedding at Cana: When the wine has run out, Mary tells the servants to “do what [Jesus} tells [them].”Along comes this icon to reinforce that we should listen to Mary. And what does she say? “Listen to him.”
Mary is the first evangelist; she bore the Word of God into human form. We are well advised to listen to her. For some of us, the Magnificat is THE summary of the Gospel which came to fruition in her womb. As her Son indicates in my icon, we ought to listen to her. And what does she say? “Listen to him.” The irony in my icon is that whereas most of the Mother and Child icons show Mary pointing to Jesus, here the gesture is the other way around – and yet in so doing, it witnesses to the same truth.
Unfortunately, Mary gets short shrift in my corner of the Christian world. Perhaps in reaction to perceived excesses and abuses in the Roman Catholic Church, against whom most protestants still seem determined to define themselves, Protestants – and even, somewhat surprisingly, Lutherans – ignore the Virgin, the Mother of God. We do this despite evidence from the earliest days of the Church that Mary was held to be “special” even among the apostles and martyrs.
I confess to a lingering trace of discomfort myself. So much of Marian devotion seems to be the Catholic equivalent of Jesus-piety in Protestantism: They/we are so afraid and unworthy to approach God the Father, that we work through a mediator. Marians need the intercessions of the Lord’s mother to move a distant and judgmental Jesus; Lutherans need Jesus to intercede to an angry, judgmental Father. Needless to say, perhaps. rumors that the immediate past Pope wanted to name Mary “co-mediatrix” with Jesus drove me up the wall (mostly because I could never make any sense of what it was supposed to mean).
But I also cannot escape the most blessed Theotokos. Luther advised us to pray to her: Call on her; “Ave, Maria,” he urged. And scripture reports that she was present at virtually every major turn in Jesus’ life and ministry. So I call on her, just as I call on other fellow members of the Body of Christ, to pray for me.
We will worship tonight at Mount Olive in a festive Eucharist celebrating the life and witness of Mary, Mother of Our Lord. This is an event of Gospel history and of the Gospel. It is good news that by her consent, “Fiat!”, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
Hail, Mary, full of grace;
the Lord is with you.
Blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.
Pray for us sinners
now and at the hour of our death.