Sermon for The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, High Mass and Procession Monday 15 August 2016
Sermon preached by Fr Julian Browning
Revelation. A great sign appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.
I like a bit of astronomy with my religion. Astronomy turns data into dreams. That’s not me, that’s Professor Brian Cox in one of his lovely programmes. Astronomy helps us to look up, from the known to the unknown, from earth to heaven. On the Feast of the Assumption we look up because this is the celebration of Mary’s death and her entrance into heaven. Here today we have God’s seal of approval on Mary’s entire life as “the handmaid of the Lord”.
All over Catholic Europe, the Feast of the Assumption is a big happy party. Not in England of course, where the Feast of the Assumption is seen as a foreign invention. It’s so much safer to look down at our feet trudging along our well known paths, than up at the stars, from the known to the unknowable. So in the Church of England the Feast of the Assumption has become something naughty which Anglo-Catholic churches can get away with in August. And that’s a crying shame, because it just confirms our place in a no hope zone: on the defensive, misunderstood, under threat. Not sure what’s coming next.
There’s a better way of celebrating the feast of the Assumption. We do what Mary did. We must look into the unknown without fear, because that is what Christ asks of those who follow him, that is our response to what He’s done for us. My soul doth magnify the Lord. Whatever happens. The opposite of a Catholic is not a Protestant, nor an evangelical, nor a non-Christian. The opposite of a Catholic is a fundamentalist. Catholic means wide, universal, embracing everyone, including those with whom we disagree. The Catholic Christian has only a partial knowledge of the truth, as St Paul makes clear to us, but a catholic heart has room for everyone. We are not called to be detectives, weighing evidence all the time. We don’t look for scientific truth, but for signs to the truth of our life and death. We are called to lead the Risen Life.
There is nothing to fear. Here is a God who is calling us home, as He calls Mary home today. God always calls us home, into his presence, to share his eternal life. What is God’s home like? It’s a place where we are confident that God and the essential nature of life are good and absolutely trustworthy.
The Feast of the Assumption gathers together the events of Mary’s life, to put before us, under the sign of a lady clothed with the sun, the example of a person, in time and history, who accepted God’s invitation. “Be it unto me according to thy word”. This theme of coming home to a place where each of us is loved by God, is a Gospel theme. It is Mary who provided the loving home for the Son of God. It is Mary who provides the home for the beloved disciple after the Crucifixion. She looked into the unknown without fear.
So Mary is “full of grace”, the Church is full of grace; we are full of grace as we accept and express God’s love for each one of us. Mary gave Christ to the world. We provide a home for Christ, we are “full of grace”, when we live in the closeness so clearly symbolised by the Virgin and her Child. When we try to live as she did, giving herself for the sake of the Kingdom, then we too will be able to gather up all we have done in our lives, and, at the end, hand it all over to God. We too have a passage into eternity.
But I was going to tell you something about astronomy, about the woman clothed with the Sun, with the Moon under her feet. In the Book of Revelation this passage isn’t about Mary at all. The woman represents the whole people of God, including us. The sign of a woman with the moon under her feet helps us to see a universe in which Jesus Christ is our Sun, shining with God’s glory, and Mary is the moon, shining with a reflected glory, a glory which is ours too, reflected light. We shine with divine light.
When we look up, when that vision is our vision, we are no longer prisoners of time and history. We need no longer feel threatened, nor, as St Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “blinded by the god of the present age”. Time, and our lives in time, have been intercepted by Christ’s love, and that is a secure base on which to build our new life. Today we honour Our Lady, who provided the home in which that love grew to maturity, and who is today herself called to her eternal home.