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Mary the Prophet

Mary the Prophet
August 18, 2019
Series:
Passage: Isaiah 61:10-11, Luke 1:46-55, Galatians 4:4-7, Psalm 34:1-9
Service Type:

The Virgin Mary is exalted high above the choirs of angels; let all the
faithful rejoice.

There is a story about a self-styled prophet who stood on a mountain top
outside his city announcing the liberation and renewal of all Israel. The
townspeople asked the local Rabbi to respond. As he listened to the self-appointed prophet blow his trumpet, the Rabbi went to his window and looked out at the world around him. What he saw was no renewal, no liberation, no cause for triumphal trumpeting. Similarly, we need only to look outside our doors to see the tents of people who cannot find safe and affordable housing, people deprived for all sorts of reasons of things that we consider basic to human existence. We don’t even need to read the newspaper to know that our climate is changing, right here in the Emerald City. Every week we hear about the increasing marginalization of immigrants and refugees whom our nation used to invite and protect, immigrants and refugees whom our biblical tradition tells us to care for.

We live in a world that bears many marks of Christ’s suffering, but few
signs of his resurrection, few signs of the reign of God he came to announce.

We need a prophet. Not a self-proclaimed prophet on a hill with a trumpet,
but a prophet like Mary. Luke gives Mary many of the traits of a typical Old
Testament prophet: she’s got a “call narrative,” which we call the Annunciation—her meeting with the Angel Gabriel in which she first protests and then accepts  God’s call. (Just like Moses, Isaiah, and Jeremiah.) She’s got her prophecy—the Magnificat. She gets taken up to heaven like Elijah. Most importantly, Mary speaks like a prophet. She uses the Hebrew tense known as “the prophetic perfect.” This is one of the things that throws us off about the Magnificat: Mary seems to be speaking of things that haven’t happened, or haven’t happened yet, as though they already have.

God has scattered the proud, brought down the powerful, lifted the lowly;
filled the hungry, and sent the rich away. Really?? I don’t see this happening, and I’m not sure the poor and hungry in our midst see it happening, either. And yet this Song of Mary, which we pray night after night in Evening Prayer, reads like it's all a done deal.

It may be that this use of the past perfect tense—the prophetic perfect—
conveys Mary’s certainty that this lifting up the lowly and filling the hungry are permanent, durable attributes of God that are the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. The button that signals God’s justice has already been pressed. The switch has been flipped.

True prophets—like Mary—get a glimpse of the world as God sees the
world, in which there is no past and no future. Thus Mary is given voice to
reassure anyone and everyone who thinks God may have forgotten the promise to care for strangers, widows, and orphans, and to be with us forever. For Mary, God’s promises are fulfilled. Complete, done, or as good as done. I was always a big fan of Father Tim in the Mitford series, whose favorite phrase was “consider it done.” This is what Mary is saying: consider it done.

The Virgin Mary is exalted high above the choirs of angels; let all the
faithful rejoice.

It is perhaps this prophetic certainty of God’s good news that makes the
Magnificat so reassuring to some and so threatening to others.

The singing or reading of the Magnificat was banned in India under
British rule. In the 1980s, it was banned in Guatemala. After the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo—whose children all disappeared during the Dirty War of 1976- 1983—after they placed the words of Mary’s song on posters throughout the capital, the military junta of Argentina outlawed any public display of the Magnificat.

Theologian Elizabeth Johnson has written: “The Magnificat is a
revolutionary song of salvation whose political, economic, and social
dimensions cannot be blunted. People in need in every society hear a
blessing in this canticle. The battered woman, the single parent without
resources, those without food on the table or without even a table, the
homeless family, the young abandoned to their own devices, the old who are discarded: all are encompassed in the hope Mary proclaims.”

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The Magnificat places the work of God in Christ squarely where it
belongs: as a response to the cry of the poor, the downcast and the outcast,
the hungry and the needy. The Magnificat is for all of us. To those of us—and I would put myself in this category—weighed down by the imaginations of our hearts badly in need of scattering, the Magnificat promises a new perspective. The Magnificat offers freedom from worldly possessions badly in need of redistribution, freedom from selfish ambitions in need of
redirection.

The Virgin Mary is exalted high above the choirs of angels; let all the
faithful rejoice.j

And what of the Assumption, this feast which the Book of Common
Prayer has renamed “The Feast of Saint Mary the Virgin”? What are we to
make of this feast, which, because we’re Anglicans, is observed by some as a holy day of obligation, by others as a matter of personal piety and by others not at all?

Although it made for an extremely entertaining discussion on
Facebook this week, I suggest that we set aside the debate about extrabiblical matters of faith, we may hold as truth but cannot verify until our next life. Setting all of that aside, imagine that what is assumed into heaven is Mary of the Magnificat. When Mary is exalted above the choirs of angels, as we know she is, regardless of when and how she got there, what do you think the choirs of angels are singing? I bet you anything they’re singing My soul proclaims the greatness of the lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior in a thousand different languages. The Assumption of Mary places the Magnificat, with its certain hope for the poor and oppressed, squarely where it belongs: as a response to the cry of the poor and in the realm of the divine. Mary, who first sang the Magnificat on the outskirts of respectability, is raised up in the same way that the poor and hungry are raised up. Like a good prophet, Mary is herself a sign of the truth of her prophecy. Let all the faithful rejoice.