The Seven Word Sermon: Mary is Mother, Daughter, Spouse of God.
Miryam, the daughter of Anna and Joachim, loved to listen to the great stories of what God had done for her people. The God of her ancestors has spoken to Moses and revealed his Law for the whole people of Israel. With mighty deeds, he enabled them to escape from Egypt and enter the land long-ago promised to Abraham and to his descendents for ever.
Miryam knew that many times, God had allowed his power to work through great heroines – it was written that “God’s spirit” had come upon them. Sarah, in her old age, had conceived a son for Abraham. Deborah had been a great prophet in charge of all Israel. Hannah, barren for many years, had been granted a child in answer to prayers in the Temple. Judith tricked and defeated the military commander of Israel’s enemies.
On the day appointed by God, Miryam’s life was transformed forever. An angel appeared and declared she had been chosen from all women for a task unique in human history: the God of the Universe was to have a Son on Earth. But for a son to be born, a mother’s womb was needed, and this could not happen without a woman’s consent. The same divine spirit which came upon Israel’s heroines of old, now fell upon Miryam; the words of scripture struggle to express it adequately, that she was filled with the utter fullness of what God could offer.
We know that although all human beings are made in God’s image, it is not correct to say that simply being human makes you a child of God. No, it is when the Holy Spirit comes into the heart of a person, that we are adopted as a Son or Daughter of God-the-Heavenly-Father. Miryam, filled with the fullness of God’s Spirit, was most truly of all people a Daughter of God-the-Father. And because of this utter fullness of the presence of God’s spirit, it has become traditional to speak of Mary as “Spouse of the Holy Spirit”.
“The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary – and she conceived by the Holy Spirit.” In these familiar words of the Angelus prayer we affirm that Mary bore a child by the Spirit’s power.
“Behold the handmaid of the Lord” – Mary made an act of utter obedience to God.
“The Word Became Flesh” – in her womb, the Word of God, a co-equal spirit begotten by the Divine Father before the beginning of time,* irrevocably took on human flesh. A spark of life, an embryo, a child, grew in the womb of Mary. From the moment of the Spirit’s overshadowing, it was true to say that that human life was God-the-Word-made-flesh. Mary’s child was God from God, light from light, true God from true God. Mary did not give her son divinity; and yet his divine nature is so inseparable from his humanity, that we must recognise that Mary was, from that moment, Mother of the child-who-is-God, and so, inescapably, Mother of God.
On the day when the Christ-child was presented in the Temple at Jersualem, a prophet, Simeon, was moved by the Holy Spirit to speak these words: ‘this child will be a sign for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and a sword shall pierce your own soul, too’. So from the earliest days of her child’s life, Mary knew that she would suffer because of Him. The words of St Paul remind us that if we share the suffering of Christ, we shall share his glory. The poet who composed the Stabat Mater well understood what Mary suffered on Calvary: “At the Cross her station keeping, stood the mournful Mother weeping, close to Jesus to the last.” Mary did indeed share the pain of Christ’s crucifixion; and we believe that, assumed body and soul into heaven, she now shares Christ’s glory in a unique way.
In this month of May, we have honoured Mary by sending her statue around many homes in this parish. Each evening, as the statue was handed on, two families had the opportunity to pray together. We pray to Mary because she dwells in heaven, Daughter of the Father, Mother of the Son, Spouse of the Holy Spirit. She is not God; she must never be worshipped as God. But in ancient Israel, it was the mother of the reigning King who was honoured as Queen of the Kingdom, and in the same way, we regard Mary, Mother of Jesus, as Queen of Heaven. Just as Queen Bathsheba of old could appear in the throne room of King Solomon to ask for some favour, so we trust that Mary can, if we choose to invoke her aid, pray for us before the throne of God.
On the Day of Pentecost, Mary was gathered with the Apostles when they were filled with the Holy Spirit. Could she, already filled to the uttermost, receive any more of God’s grace? She could, and did, receive with the Apostles the commission to make the teachings of Jesus known unto the ends of the earth. And from Heaven she has continued to do this, appearing as a pregnant princess in Guadalupe, as the Immaculate Conception in Lourdes, and as the bearer of the Immaculate Heart in Fatima. She appears not to bring glory to herself, but always to point us towards Jesus. When she bore her son, at the angel’s command, she gave him the name ‘Jesus’, meaning the one who saves us from our sins. At Fatima, she requested us to add to the rosary, that great prayer invoking the intercession of the Mother of God, a petition to her Son, our Divine Saviour: “O My Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of Hell, and lead all souls to heaven, especially those who have most need of thy mercy.”
So on this great feast of the Most Holy Trinity, I invite you to look at the God we worship through the eyes of Mary. For surely Mary wants us to know God as Father. With us, she prays “Our Father”. She invites us to know Jesus as brother, Saviour and Lord. As at Cana, so in our church family, she says, “Do whatever he tells you”. She invites us to know the Holy Spirit. She was filled with Spirit from the Annunciation, and longs for us to know the Spirit’s touch, too. Mother of God, Daughter of the Father, Spouse of the Spirit, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death. Amen.
* As a physics graduate, of course, I acknowledge that this statement is physically impossible. But here we are dealing with a truth so profound only poetry can even begin to express it adequately!