Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary – August 15, 2021
St. Paul – Lyons, KS
Revelation 11:19a, 12:1-6a, 10ab; Psalm 45:1-12, 16; 1 Corinthians 15:20-27; Luke 1:39-56
The Word Became Flesh…Through the Humanity of Mary
Our journey through the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel is interrupted today for this great solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. And really, it’s a perfect celebration to have and fits in perfectly with everything we’ve already been talking about.
But we have to be honest and ask: “Why is the Assumption such a big deal? Who cares? Why do we care? Why is it such a big deal?” And it comes back to the fact that the Assumption is not just “the day that Mary floated up into heaven.” It is that, but it’s so much more. The Assumption isn’t in scripture, but the Fathers of the Church, in the earliest years of the Church—we find in their writings a lot of defense of this fact. Why? Why were they so intent on defending this? Why was it such a big deal? Why is it such a big deal to us?
And the key is to remember that anything we say and define about Mary is alway said to help us do two things: one, to understand Jesus more clearly—and so that’s always most important; but two, we define and uphold certain things about Mary in order to to understand us, the Church, the Baptized people more clearly. Because just as Jesus comes in fulfillment of the Scriptures, so too does Mary. Just as we are called to share in the life of God in and through Christ, so too does Mary.
“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14) as John’s Gospel tells us. The Word became flesh, but the Word became flesh through the flesh, through the humanity of Mary. And this reveals something very important about who we are as humans, and especially who we are as Christians, as Catholics.
When we read scripture, one thing we have to do is keep in mind this principle: we must read the New Testament in light of the Old, and the Old Testament in light of the New. For instance, Jesus is often presented as a new Adam (going back to the story of creation)—Paul does this in our second reading: “For since death came through man [Adam], the resurrection of the dead came also through man [Jesus]. For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life.” Jesus is also often presented as a new Moses—leading people on a New Exodus, bringing about a New Passover—John 6 has focused on Jesus as a new Moses. Jesus is also presented as a new Solomon. He is hailed as the Son of David: he brings about a new royal kingdom, the Kingdom of God; and just like Solomon builds a new Temple: the Temple of his body (John 2:21).
But also, keep in mind: back at creation it wasn’t just Adam…but Eve too. Back at the time of the Exodus it wasn’t just Moses, but the Ark of the Covenant. Back at the time of the Davidic Kingdom it wasn’t just King Solomon but it was also the Queen Mother enthroned at the king’s right hand (cuz there was a bit of a monogamy problem so Momma was queen).
The Gospel we have today, Luke intentionally writes this narrative of the Visitation—the story of Mary coming up to the Hill Country of Judea—Luke writes to intentionally mimic when the Ark of the Covenant was brought up to the Judean hill country, to the Temple, and David danced before the Ark. And what did the ark contain? It had, among other things, the stone tablets with the Ten Commandments, and also some mana from the desert, the “bread from heaven.” Ok, so put it all together: in the Gospel of Luke, Luke is presenting Mary as the New Ark of the New Covenant, being taken up to the hill country of Judea where John “dances” in his mother’s womb before it. And this New Ark contains not just the word of God in stone, but the Word made Flesh! Not just mana from the desert, but the True Bread come down from Heaven!
Keep it going: in the Book of Revelation, our first reading, John describes the vision he has of the Temple up in Heaven, and he has a vision of the Ark of the Covenant. But then instead of going on to describe a box covered in gold he immediately starts speaking of some woman. John describes not the Ark of the Old Covenant in Jerusalem, but the Ark of the New Covenant in the Heavenly Jerusalem: this woman, clothed with the sun, giving birth to a male child destined to rule. And this also means that that we have this image of the Queen Mother giving birth to this child who will rule! Our Psalm mentioned that as well: “The queen stands at your right hand arrayed in gold.”
And so which one did we miss? Eve. Adam and Eve are the central figures of the narrative of creation and fall. And so with the New Adam, Jesus Christ, and the New Eve, Mary it’s not about creation and fall, but redemption and new creation! Again, everything we say about Mary is to help us understand Jesus more clearly. Which in turn helps us to understand ourselves, ourselves as Christians, little-christs.
Understanding Ourselves: Heralds of the Coming Kingdom
Cool! Why do we care? What does this have to do with any of us here in Lyons, America in 2021? Well, it’s because all of this is carried on through us, through the Church. We’re not just here following all of the rules, waiting to die, and hoping our soul makes it to heaven. No. We carry on this same mission as Jesus Christ. On the day of our Baptism, we weren’t just saved from eternal damnation—we were reborn, born into a new humanity, the humanity of the New Adam; dressed in our white garment, the priest said, “John, you have become a new creation and clothed yourself in Christ.” On the day of our Confirmation, we didn’t just accept Jesus as an adult—we were anointed with the Spirit, the same Spirit who came down on Jesus in the waters of the Jordan, the Spirit which empowered Jesus in his own mission, the Spirit who anointed him as the New Royal King. And in the Eucharist, we don’t just eat the super magic bread that takes us to heaven when we’re dead—in this Eucharist we eat the living bread that comes down from heaven, we carry within ourselves the bread of heaven, and we begin to share in the humanity of Jesus, we begin to experience eternal life here and now.
All of this is what Jesus is talking about when he says, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). The Kingdom of God is at hand. And this Kingdom is not just another worldly power, another political system, another ethical system. No, the Kingdom is Heaven and Earth being drawn back together. And this isn’t some “pie in the sky,” “high theological vision.” It’s very concrete, it’s very real, very practical.
Because it’s not going to look like what you think it should look like. When the Kingdom of God arrives, when God is established as King—it’s going to look very upside-down, very much like God isn’t in charge. I mean look around at the world: doesn’t seem like God is king.
But take a closer look. Because when God takes charge He doesn’t send in the tanks and the guns. He sends in (like the Beatitudes tell us)—He sends in the meek and the poor and the hungry-for-justice people, the merciful and the peacemakers. And by the time the “worldly powers” (c.f., 1 Corinthians 15:24) realize what’s going on, these people have set up hospitals, and orphanages, and schools—and in and through them, people see this Kingdom, they see what it looks like when God becomes King.
And sure enough, these people are often despised and rejected, “persecuted for righteousness’ sake”—but by being this people, the Kingdom of God begins to break into this world, heaven and earth begin to be drawn back together. A new humanity begins to shine forth. The royal reign of God shines forth in his anointed royal people. The eternal life of his kingdom is experienced by these people who eat the living bread.
And how is this possible? Because Jesus Christ has opened the way. Because we share in his new humanity through Baptism, because he empowers us with his own Spirit at Confirmation, because we share in his body and blood—the Kingdom breaks in through you, through me, through this community, through the Church, and the Kingdom comes on earth as in heaven.
“Where does Mary fit into this?”
But within all of this, it cannot be done without Mary, without our Blessed Mother. Remember, the Word became flesh, but the Word became flesh through the humanity, through the womb of Mary. The Kingdom came on earth as in heaven most perfectly, most fully, through Mary. When the Kingdom came, it was through Mary. She is the first to experience the Kingdom breaking into the world through her flesh.
And so Mary’s Assumption is a big deal for us because Mary’s Assumption is the sign for us of what is to come! We are destined to share in heavenly glory. And not just as some spirit sitting on a cloud, not just praying, playing a little harp, no! We are destined to share body and soul in heavenly glory. As the people who allow the Kingdom to break into this world through us, there is a great promise in store.
This day is the icon of our future hope, our future resurrection, our future share in the fulness of the Kingdom. Until then we await the blessed hope, and the coming of our savior, Jesus Christ.