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Rector’s Letter August 2017

My recent pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham has set me up well to write about Mary, the Mother of the Lord as we prepared to celebrate her feast day this month.

In the sonnet The Annunciation by Malcolm Guite, we find these words:

But on this day a young girl stopped to see
With open eyes and heart. She heard the voice –
The promise of his glory yet to be
As time stood still for her to make a choice.
Gabriel knelt and not a feather stirred.
The Word himself was waiting on her word.

From the account of the Annunciation in St. Luke’s Gospel, we get the impression that Mary was seriously disturbed by the appearance of Gabriel and by what he said to her, ‘And he came to her and said “Greetings favoured one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.”’ And well might she be disturbed, you and I would be just as disturbed if he came to us with such a message!

Yet Malcolm Guite gives us a new insight into the relationship between Mary and Gabriel.

However disturbed or afraid Mary was, in Guite’s vision it is she who becomes the dominant figure and Gabriel kneels before her – ‘and not a feather stirred.’ Gabriel makes himself small as he waits for Mary’s response to his message, and it is not just he who waits, but the Word of God himself was ‘ waiting on her word.’

We know well what response Mary gave: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” We honour Mary because she was chosen by God to be the means by which God’s Word was to come into our world in the person of Jesus Christ, but we honour her even more because she was the one who said ‘Yes’ to God and is therefore the pattern for all Christians as they seek to respond to God. “Let it be to me according to your word.” Are we all able to say those words wholeheartedly and without hesitation as she did – to assent to God’s will for us even when, like her, we do not fully understand what it means and where it will lead us?

That’s why it is right to honour Mary as the greatest of all saints, and why it is so sad that she has been the cause of such controversy in our church since the Reformation. We do not worship her as we worship Christ her son as Son of God. But we honour her as the greatest of all Christians. From the Cross, the Lord commended her to the care of the apostle John and commended John, and through him, I believe, all Christians, to the motherly care and to the prayers of Mary, Mother of the Church.

On Mary’s feast day in August we are not simply reflecting on the events of the Annunciation but on Mary’s whole life of offering to God. Many Christians celebrate this day as the ‘Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary’, in the belief that at the end of her life here on earth she was taken up directly into heaven in a similar way to that of Christ himself at the Ascension. Whether we believe that or not, Mary’s feast day certainly enables us to celebrate the fact that she is indeed in heaven, the first fruit of the great harvest of souls that will make up God’s Kingdom in due course. From there she continues to love and to pray for us as we continue to struggle here on earth.

I hope that you will join me to celebrate the Eucharist in her honour on Tuesday August 15th.

Fr. John

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