Well our Easter Person this week is the Mary – the Mother of Jesus. For protestants and especially evangelicals Mary can be a prickly nettle to grasp, so often tainted in our eyes by the vague suspicions that some Christian traditions may almost treat her as an idol before God, we tend to shy away from her, almost feeling we need to distance ourselves from a practice we just don’t properly understand. And I think this is to our great detriment because we miss something really important about God’s incarnation in jesus when we simply dismiss the woman who bore him and birthed him. The woman who said ‘Yes’.
There is so much we can learn from Mary, from the role she played in Jesus’ life and the Resurrection story.
So what do we know for sure about this incredible woman of God?
Well the truth is not very much once we’ve separated out the traditions and myths that have sprung up around her over the two millennia that have passed since Christ’s Birth. Save for the events around Jesus’ life, little is recorded of this otherwise unremarkable jewish woman from what would otherwise have been a forgotten village in a forgotten area of the middle east.
But she is still one of the most significant women in scripture.
What we do know is that she was a devout jewish believer, apparently living in Nazareth at the time she conceived Jesus. We don’t know for sure her heritage (both the biblical Genealogies are from Joseph’s line) but Luke 1:32 which includes the words “The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David” certainly suggests that the early church believed she was of the Davidic line, as the virgin birth narrative implies Jesus’ heritage could only come through Mary. And Mary and Elizabeth are said to be relatives the latter being described as being from Aaron’s line – a clear link to the Levitical line of priests. For the Jews of the 1st century the lineage back to the Father’s of the faith is of vital importance, and Mary certainly seems to be connected to the right lines of heritage.
This may seem a mute point to us in the 21st century, but we have to remember that the Old Testament prophecies that speak of the coming Messiah do tie his Birth into the line of David. It is vital for the early Church that this link can be proven, and the gospel writers, Luke in particular, seem to have gone to some length to find out what they can. Unlike the other Gospels, Luke begins with a literary introduction that is personal, the style is similar to some of the renowned secular histories of the time.
By tradition it’s believed that Luke spoke to Mary herself before committing his gospel to papyrus. We can’t know for sure, but it is certain that who ever he did interview in relation to the story he was going to relate was, if not Mary herself, very close to Mary.
All of this of course is of academic interest. But there are some important and clear facts that do genuinely start to give us a picture of who Mary was.
Firstly and most importantly she said ‘Yes’.
This simple woman, for that is what she would have been, was confronted by a messenger of God – so awesome and frightening that the very first words this angel speaks are ‘Do not be afraid’ very easy for him to say! And then the really scary thing happens – the angel unfolds before her God’s plan for the redemption of mankind.
And Mary says ‘Yes’. A simple act of obedience that will change her life forever and change the world forever. (Could she have said no……?) My belief in our God given free will means I must conclude that she could have refused, decided it was too hard a path, to difficult a road. But she says yes.
The enormity of that decision must have come home to her again and again as she faced the scorn and humiliation of those around her, for bearing a child out of marriage and again as the words of Simeon echoed in her mind through the years ‘and a sword shall pierce your heart’.
That yes, led her to see the joys of her son’s ministry knowing that it couldn’t end as the disciples believed it would. Certainly we have no evidence to suggest that she new the exact out come, but Simeon’s prophecy, and the simple fact of being Jesus’ Mother, watching him grow up to fulfil his mission, must have given her a sense of what was to come. Jesus knew he was to die to bear the weight of humankind’s rejection of God – he told his disciples that it would happen – how can we doubt that he confided the same in the woman that would have meant more to him than any other. The woman who he sought to comfort even as he hung on the cross.
That Yes led to something quite significant to, as we see God’s work through he ages unfold.
Mary quite literally, for a time at least, becomes the Ark of the New Covenant. The original Ark of the Covenant held the tablets of the law, the Word of God revealed though Moses. Mary bears The Word made flesh into the world. (Just think about that for a moment…….)
Perhaps now we begin to see why roman catholic and orthodox expressions of the faith revere this simple, obedient woman of God.
So we come to the Easter narrative.
Just as Mary is present at the beginning of what God is doing through His Son, just as she is there as Jesus begins his ministry (the wedding at Cana), and again as Jesus travels and preaches; she is there again at the very end and of course the new beginning of the resurrection.
I cannot begin to understand what she must have experiences that terrible final week, as she witnessed Jesus be arrested, condemned and sentenced. What must it have felt like stood at the foot of the cross as her Son, entrusted her care to John.
Mary stood there watching her son betortured and killed. Jesus had been her baby, the boy she educated, the young man she was so proud of. She now saw him tormented and executed by brutal soldiers.
It is impossible to imagine how Mary felt as she watched the full horror of the crucifixion. After the death of her son, she lived in the home of one of his friends.
Despite all the promise, despite all the hints of what God was doing, she like the other disciples, seems to have had no clue as to the true understanding of his words about his mission. Yet she’s helped prepare him for this very task.
By the time we rencounter Mary in Acts she is described in the context of a pre-pentecost prayer meeting of Jesus’ followers. Christ himself has ascended to heaven, promising the coming counsellor. Here in the centre of the first Church is the woman who bore the Son of God with the children she and Joseph had together after Jesus, his half-brothers who in the gospels are clearly hesitant of their brother’s claims – now clearly accepting what they struggled to believe before. The Jesus they knew was indeed the Messiah. The next few days will clinch it for them all, when the Holy Sprit come sin power on all who follow Jesus.
Mary, mother of Jesus is the woman who said yes. But more than that she is the one through whom redemption enters the world.
As we reflect on her role in giving life to Christ we must surely make note that the God who created the world chose this young woman to bring to pass his salvation. God could have chosen to have Jesus enter the world in anyway conceivable (excuse the pun), Jesus could simply have walked out of the desert. But no – God chose to use this young woman to help achieve His purposes. This most blessed of woman, who endured the anguish of watching her loved Son give himself for all humanity.
Anyone who doubts the role that woman have to play in Jesus’ Church need look no further than Mary to be challenged. Mary a simple peasant girl of the line of David who became the Ark of the New covenant as she bore and delivered the Word made Flesh into the world.
I long to see our part of the Church universal be brave enough to acknowledge what an incredible, obedient and holy woman Mary was. There is much myth about her that we may not understand and that, quite honestly, we can happily give little heed to. But let’s remember this faithful woman of God, let her obedience and faithfulness be to us an inspiration and example, and let us be challenged by the central role God chose for her in the beginning of the Church he was building.