Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!

The Assumption of Our Lady
August 16, 2016, 9:44 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

A sermon preached at All Hallows, Easton, Sunday August 14, 2016

Assumption 2

We are keeping tomorrow today- that is, we are celebrating today tomorrow’s feast of the Assumption of our blessed Lady into heaven. In a way, Christians are always celebrating tomorrow today, because we believe that the eternal life which God has promised us hereafter has already begun in this life. In Baptism we renounce the old life and standards of this sinful world, and “put on Christ”- clothe ourselves, as it were, with the life and standards of Christ. True, we often fall short of those standards, so that the new life we live is weakened; but unless we deliberately renounce our discipleship of Christ (and even then he never renounces us) we will reach our journey’s end in heaven.

Today we celebrate Mary’s journey’s end. For the most part, the details of that journey are hidden from us. We see her first as a girl in Nazareth, answering the angel’s call: “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord.” We follow her through the next year, visiting Elizabeth and travelling with Joseph to Bethlehem for the birth of her son, and soon afterwards she disappears for about twelve years, until she and Joseph search for Jesus and find him in the Temple. then she disappears from view again until Jesus begins his public ministry. At Cana she speaks: “Do whatever he tells you,” and some three years later stands at the foot of the Cross, and receives the disciple John as her new child and also he carer. She is with the disciples in the upper room at Pentecost, and the rest is silence. How long afterwards she remained on earth we have no idea.

From a very early time, the Church has believed that at the end of her life Mary was received body and soul into heaven. While the bones of practically every other saint have been revered and enshrined, and some of the claims seem unlikely (it is said that the head of John the Baptist is preserved in several different places), there has never been any claim that the bones of Mary might be found on earth. Why should this be?

This is where we need a bit of theology. Right at the beginning of the Bible, we learn that God did not intend human beings to die. This truth is couched in story form, in the way that could be understood and remembered in a less scientific age than our own. God places the first human beings in a garden, a garden in which grow the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and the tree of life. Because Adam and Eve tried to snatch a certain equality with God (that is the meaning of “eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”), they were excluded from access to the tree of life. Their lives would be marked by sorrow, and would end in death. The whole Bible story after that is the story of how God seeks to rescue his children from their self-inflicted exile, to save them from death, and eventually to create a new heaven and a new earth for  them to live in.

St Paul speaks of Jesus as the “Second Adam”, one who did not snatch at equality with God (as the first Adam had), but emptied himself and became obedient even to the death of the cross. Then he was raised bodily from the tomb, and ascended into heaven as the King of all creation. Christ was sinless, yet he died for our sins. In him, God as it were “re-booted” the universe, and gave it a fresh start. Christ is the New Adam- but where is the new Eve? In the original story, Eve was the indispensible help-meet of Adam, as innocent as he was until their common fall. God made mankind male and female, sharing the task of tending God’s world. And that is how we must see the position of Mary in the new order of salvation. Her obedience (“Behold, the handmaid of the Lord.”) countermanded the disobedience of Eve. Standing at the Cross, she united herself with Jesus in his self-sacrifice for our salvation. Receiving John, she received all her son’s disciples as her children.

The Church’s belief in the Assumption rests on these principles: Mary, the new Eve, was as innocent as the first Eve prior to the fall, and became the indispensible instrument whereby the new Adam entered the world. Jesus is “Emmanuel, God-with-us”, and Mary is mother of God. Like her son, she passed through the gates of death at the end of her earthly life; but like her son, death could not hold her, and so she already has the fullness of the resurrection.

Never forget: our destiny is not simply “going to heaven when we die.” That is only the intermediate stage. Every Sunday in the Creed we say that we believe in the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. In the Apostles’ Creed it is even more explicit: “I believe in the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” Easter Day and August 15th testify that we really mean this. New heaven, new earth, new bodies. That is our tomorrow.


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