Monday, March 26, 2012

Mary, Lent & The Paschal Mystery

He'd just finished a long teaching session.
She'd been sitting quietly toward the back, taking in all he'd said.
A grandmotherly type. She waited till the others had dispersed.
Walking up to him, smiling, she took his face in her hands and said: "Yeshua, blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that nursed you!!

His warm hand lifted and grasped hers on his cheek, as he smiled and said: "Ah, but rather blessed are those who hear Yahweh's word and keep it."

His mind, at that moment, wandered back several years, to a day when he'd talked with his mother, Miriam, as she worked in the kitchen. The kind of quiet conversation with his mom in which a young boy delights.

He'd asked all sorts of questions: the kind which young boys ask when important issues and things that don't make sense come to their minds, in no particular order.

His mother had paused as he asked how he'd come to be, how he'd been born to her and Joseph, and why Joseph was his "stepfather".

With a far-away look in her eyes Miriam spoke softly of that day, many years ago when she was a young girl. She and Joseph has just been betrothed, married, for all practical purposes, though she hadn't yet gone to live in his house.

That particular day she was on her way to the well to draw water, when she suddenly became aware of a Presence. It was both like a dream, yet like it was really happening.

Out of the Presence came silent words which seemed to be directed to someone else. She must've misunderstood: "Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you."
She knew that she was a good Jewish girl; Anna and Jehoiakim had raised her such.
But what she was hearing was language for someone special, someone very close to Yahweh: not for someone as ordinary as she.

She'd tried not to seem alarmed, though she was, as the Presence conveyed to her that she would soon become pregnant, immediately, in fact; that she would bear a son, and that his name would be Yeshua. "How nice," she remembered thinking momentarily. "Yeshua, 'he saves'". A lot of boys whom she knew had that name.

Suddenly the message began to register with full impact. All this talk of a great son, and thrones, and never-ending kingdoms began to confuse and truly frighten her.

"How can this be, since my betrothal hasn't even been consummated?" she'd exclaimed. "I'll be stoned if anyone finds out that I'm pregnant!"

As Miriam told her son the story, she'd paused briefly, sitting very quietly, then continued:
The Presence had spoken of the Spirit and the Most High's power overshadowing her, and even as the word came to her she'd felt in her body that it had been done. Something was different, something was new.

"The child to be born will be called holy: the Son of God."
Trying to grasp the reality of this moment, she'd heard further words about her cousin, Elizabeth, also being with child, and all this she verified when she'd visited Elizabeth shortly thereafter.

The words had kept ringing in her ears all through the days of her pregnancy: "For with Yahweh nothing is impossible."

She'd then related to Yeshua how in that strange and sudden moment, it had all begun to make sense despite her misgivings and uncertainty.
From somewhere deep within her being she'd summoned up the courage to say aloud what she was feeling: "I am Yahweh's handmaid; let it be to me according to your word."

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Yeshua came back from his reverie, back to the present, back to the smiling face of the old lady in front of him. From the expression on her face, as she looked him straight in the eyes, he knew that she understood what he'd just said: "Blessed, rather, are the ones who hear God's word and keep it."

You and I are about to once again conclude the Lenten season and to celebrate Holy Week which leads us into the glorious Resurrection mystery where, in the words of the preacher of Hebrews, we've been "consecrated through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all."

We're about to realize anew just how great are God's "wonders and...plans for us". Of course,
that doesn't preclude our being irritated occasionally at those plans! Just when you and I think we've settled in, and found that comfortable niche which we've always looked forward to, the one we thought we deserved after all our hard years of following Jesus, God has a pesky way of interrupting our lives with a different agenda.

Though we hold out to God weak reminders of all our past "sacrifices and offerings", what the Psalmist and the Hebrew preacher call "burnt offerings and sin offerings", God isn't buying it. If we "get" even a hint of the meaning of the Paschal mystery, we can figure out that God wants, not these things from us, but the same as Jesus gave on the Cross: ourselves, our whole lives. "Behold I come." "...I have come to do your will, O God." "Here am I, the servant of the Lord."

Providentially, we will have the weeks of Eastertide ahead to contemplate what all this might mean for us personally, how each of us might articulate her/his "Here am I" to God. Martin Smith, in his magnificent collection of readings for the days of Lent, A Season For the Spirit, reflects that "[t]here is no place in me, however dead, however false, that is out of the reach of the Risen Christ." He adds: "In these forty days we have 'practicing the scales of rejoicing,' allowing the Spirit who is alive within us to show us a little more of our self, more of our many selves that make each one of us a microcosm of the humanity God is healing through Christ...The Spirit has acted as the Advocate of some of the conflicted, gifted, wounded, imprisoned, banished, beautiful, desiring, lost, angry, fearful, creative selves whom we are usually so reluctant to face...By showing us how [the Risen] Christ touches each self of my self the Spirit has helped empower us some more to act as the agents of his touch for others." 


Anonymous said...

father Harry, this is exquisite! Thank you for all of your essays, all truly good.

Michelle Jackson

John-Julian, OJN said...

Wonderful words—and where did you find that gorgeous pre-Raphaelite Annunciation picture?