We live in a world in which the levers of power are held by the mighty of the earth. Turn on the news and we hear of suffering of the poor people of Afghanistan as the Taliban take control or the diminishing of Hong Kong’s unique freedoms within China. On the more personal scale, we feel our own helplessness at times before situations which we feel unable to shape in any meaningful way. And then, of course, there is the pandemic. Did any one of us imagine how an itty-bitty virus would disrupt our world?
Yet in the face of all this we still proclaim and celebrate the hope which comes from faith and love. Today’s solemnity is a celebration of the triumph of hope which comes from faith and love in the flesh of woman of no particular significance from Nazareth, Mary. The Assumption does not tell us to just endure until we eventually, hopefully, get to heaven. It is God casting down ‘the mighty of their seats and raising up the lowly’ in the words of Mary’s prayer of praise. It is God’s being faithful to his servant Israel remembering his mercy.
The new heavens and new earth is present in mystery; we glimpse it at times, but it is not yet. We glimpse it wonderfully in the assumption of Mary. Her body was not incidental to who she was. How could it be? She spoke her yes with her mouth. She bore the child in her womb. Her body was stretched by this child. She suckled him at her breast. Held him, hugged him. Did all those things mothers do for their children. This was a bodily existence. Tears ran down her face at the Cross, she would have felt every moment in her body; her heart would have broken. The Pieta presents us with a tender image of Mary cradling the body of her dead Son. And three days later, her heart would have leapt for joy. Our bodies are so much of what we are. They bear the marks of our life. God would not discard our bodiliness; he loved Mary, her loves us in our bodiliness. Mary is assumed as a promise of the new heaven and a new earth, participating in a wonderful way in the resurrection of her Son. She is assumed as a sign and a promise to us.
When the angel came to her, she could have said, ‘It is a big world; I am not important enough. You’re asking an awful lot.’ But she did not. She questioned the angel and then put herself at the service of God’s plan. We glimpse a new heaven and earth. She went to see the truth of the angel’s words in her cousin, Elizabeth. In the encounter of the two women, their shared wonder and joy, we glimpse a new heaven and a new earth. In Mary’s prayer of praise, we hear of a new heaven and earth and are drawn into the this girl’s joy. In her Assumption, we see that God did not want anything of Mary to be lost, all that she did and was in her body is assumed, the new heaven and earth in her body.
We are not helpless; faith, hope and love are not helplessness. They may seem small and weak, like a girl from Nazareth, Nazareth of all places, ‘be it done to me according your word’. But God does marvellous deeds with small things; they are more powerful than the powerful of the earth. Let us not be the proud who are scattered, but the humble who will be raised up by the power of God. There are three things which endure, after all, faith, hope and love. Mary, our sister, our mother, is a witness to this. The Lord did great things with her and for her in her lowliness.
We are not helpless as long we respond with faith, hope and love. Instead of measuring situations with the world’s eyes, we ask the Spirit, who came upon Mary and Elizabeth, to see with his eyes, to respond with his wisdom and courage. Mary invites us to join in her Spirit-inspired prayer of praise to the God who remembers his mercy from age to age, whose Kingdom, the new and the new earth, which she experiences in her flesh, will come.