Being a bit of a hybrid Christian, having grown up Anglo-Catholic, then been a Baptist for a bit and then come back into the Church of England I’ve had a constantly changing relationship with the Virgin Mary. My evangelical sensibilities were wary of her but I have now come to the realisation that to ignore Mary is to miss a huge part of the Gospel.
Today is the feast of what many call the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary – celebrating the belief that Mary was received bodily into heaven. Of course, we don’t have any scripture that asserts this clearly but it is interesting to note that there is no site at which she is said to be buried, no shrine to her earthly remains. Anglicans officially fudge the name of the feast by calling it the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, so that we can celebrate her feast day without necessarily believing that she was bodily taken into heaven.
Today, I read an extract from Mary, Mother of God, Mother of the Poor by Ivone Gebara and Maria Bingemer about the feast of the assumption and it made me look at it in a whole new light. Here are some quotations that gave me real food for thought:
Mary’s assumption brings a new and promising future for women. Excluded from Jewish initiation rites because of their anatomy, banned from full participation in worship and the synagogue by their menstrual cycles, for a long time women – even in Christianity – subtly or explicitly have been second class citizens in the world of faith because of the ‘inferiority’ and the ‘poverty’ of their bodies.
Mary’s assumption, however, restores and reintegrates woman’s bodiliness into the very mystery of God. Starting with Mary, the dignity of women’s condition is recognised and safeguarded by the creator of that very bodiliness. In Jesus Christ and Mary the feminine is respectively resurrected and assumed into heaven – definitively sharing in the glory of the Trinitarian mystery from which all proceeds and to which all returns.
She who, while a disciple herself, shared persecutions, fear and anxiety with other disciples in the early years of the church, is the same one who, after a death that was certainly humble and anonymous, was raised to heaven. The assumption is the glorious culmination of the mystery of God’s preference for what is poor, small, and unprotected in this world.
Sculpture at Wichita Cathedral