Mother Ann’s sermon preached on Aug. 15, 2021

Posted by on Sun, Aug 15, 2021 in Feast Days, Season after Pentecost, Sermons

Mary’s Family Album

Saint Mary the Virgin

Aug. 15, 2021

Summer is a popular time for family weddings, family vacations and family reunions, prime time for bringing far-flung relatives back together—especially this summer when we’ve all just been released from captivity!  And wherever families gather, cameras come out and lenses zoom in to capture the action for posterity.

In the times BC—before cameras—word pictures recorded life’s really big moments, and book by book the Bible grew into an immense family album, preserving a wealth of sacred memories for future generations.  This morning we will savor memories of Mary, mother of Jesus, whose life we celebrate today.

We first meet Mary as a teenager, coming of age in the village of Nazareth, and engaged to a local carpenter named Joseph. In this first photo Mary seems dazed. We’re told that angels have just departed after speaking with her and her fiancé, bracing them for some startling news: if God gets his way, their marriage will never be normal. But only if, if they give their consent, then God will father a child through Mary, and Joseph will embrace the babe as his own.

Flip the page forward and we see a candid photo of Mary in labor, giving birth to this holy child in, of all places, a stable.  Next up is another night shot with the sky lit up by a piercing star, and choirs of angels bursting into song —we only wish we had the soundtrack!  Meanwhile on the ground a gaggle of ragged shepherds stand about, momentarily ignoring the mother and child and cranking their heads up to heaven.

On the following page we find a strange sight: wealthy, well-dressed foreigners have arrived and gathered around Mary and her baby.  They’re holding out the kind gifts that important guests would present to heads of state.  We can’t miss the perplexity on Mary’s face…what’s a new mother going to do with gold, frankincense and myrrh?

The photo that follows makes more sense, a happy, family scene.  Mary and Joseph have brought Jesus, their first-born, to the Temple to dedicate his life to God.  Before returning home to raise him, they show their gratitude by leaving behind their thank offering—a gentle pair of doves.

The next picture is more somber, even scary, as Joseph whisks Mary and the baby off by night. At the edge of the image we see why: King Herod and his henchmen have heard about this miraculous boy-child, and they are desperately plotting to kill every male baby in Bethlehem.  As Mary and Joseph make their escape, we can’t quite make out the look on her face…is she relieved that an angel has alerted Joseph in time, so they can get away?  Or is it more that she is grief-stricken over the little ones who will not?  Or is she anxious over the next occasion when some worldly power will go after her holy son?

The several following pages are left empty.  Though Herod eventually does die and Mary and Joseph return to their hometown, they keep a very low profile.  But finally there is a photo taken at the Temple, when Jesus has just turned twelve.  His family has been in Jerusalem for Passover, and they’re just now departing.  Suddenly Mary realizes Jesus isn’t with them.  This photo catches her franticly searching, and finding him still at the Temple.  Once again Mary looks drained, while Jesus seems non-plussed. He blithely says something about being about his Father’s business.  Mary is fast learning that her son’s business makes her own business very hard.

Again we come to some blank pages, and then the next photo shows Jesus all grown up.  Joseph is nowhere to be seen, and Mary is with Jesus at a wedding.  Over his shoulder we see the groom holding an empty glass, obviously feeling quite embarrassed; in the foreground we see Mary, leaning in and looking expectantly at her son, as if he should do something about it.  Over Jesus’ other shoulder we notice six huge clay water jars lined up against the wall.  We’ve heard this story before, and we wonder what would have happened if Mary hadn’t prodded Jesus to turn this water into wine?

No more empty pages now.  Here’s the photo of Mary and several menfolk of the family, again out searching for Jesus.  They look really stressed—the neighbors have been scoffing that Jesus is a crazy man, and Mary has raced out to stop the gossip by bringing him home. But Jesus has no intention of staying there.  

It’s clear where this story is heading.  The next photo is heartbreaking, the kind of image we’re used to wincing at with each day’s breaking news.  It’s Good Friday, and Mary and her friends are standing forlornly at the foot of the cross, somehow bearing the unbearable.  She is sobbing herself into exhaustion.

But thankfully this isn’t the end of the album.  We turn a new page to find Mary at daybreak Sunday morning, trudging to the tomb with spices and linens for a final, proper burial.  We catch her just as she is confronted by the dazzling angels who years ago sang at her son’s birth.  Jesus is risen! Mary gasps.

Now we discover one final, jubilant portrait of Mary, shot with a wide-angle lens some seven weeks after Easter, on the feast of Pentecost.  In the center we see her celebrating with a whole gang of Jesus’ friends, crammed into a rented room.  The glorious old light is back, now amped up and gyrating all over the place. At the top of the frame we spy flames cascading down from heaven, en-haloing one and all. And Mary stands basking in their radiance, blissfully closing her eyes and sighing deeply.

We close the family album still pondering the events of Mary’s life, just as she pondered them day by day. Mary’s “yes” to God has given our world so very much, and because of her own self-giving she has gained so very much in return. We learn from Mary that there is always more to relationship with God than we can imagine, and that secret possibilities are already implanted in our souls. We ponder and we wonder over all this, and our hearts grow grateful for the imaginings that stir in us because of Mary.  Amen.

© 2021 The Rev. Dr. Ann P. Lukens. All rights reserved. Posted with permission.