Feast of Saint Mary 2015

Bible Text: Luke 1:38 |

Feast of Saint Mary

And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.” Luke 1:38


When I was single, I couldn’t imagine anything worse than my own death.  When I married, I couldn’t imagine anything worse than the death of my spouse.  But when I became a father, I could imagine nothing worse than the death of my child; which is, perhaps, the greatest tragedy endured by mankind.

Yet, this tragedy is precisely the discipline God imposes upon the woman.  “I will greatly multiply your grief in childbearing; in sorrow, you shall bring forth children” (Gen 3:16).

As far as punishments go, the woman got the worst of it. The punishment leveled against the man is, in fact, transferred to the earth—thorns and thistles infesting the ground. The man’s punishment lies outside of himself. Indeed, the man can deal with his punishment actively. Through the sweat of his brow, the man gains some relief from the plagued and rebellious soil.

The woman, on the other hand, does not have it so good. “In sorrow, you shall bring forth children.” The punishment given to the woman resides in her inward being; her scourge reaches to the depths of her humanity. She cannot deal with her affliction actively;  nor can she gain any relief by the sweat of her brow. The woman must simply accept her grief; she must surrender to her sorrow. This is the burden placed upon the woman’s shoulders—to surrender herself, her life, her very flesh and blood for the sake of her children.

“In sorrow, you shall bring forth children.” The sorrow of which God speaks is by no means limited to the temporal discomfort of labor—a discomfort modern medicine can somewhat relieve.

No, God’s pronouncement concerning the woman is much more profound than mere physical pain. The sorrow that the woman must bear is the sorrow of death and the grave. The womb that is meant to be the fountain of life has now become the fountain of sin, the beginning of corruption, the commencement of a journey that must end in a return to the dust. The discipline imposed on the woman is to one day, whether she is still around or not, to lose her child;

This is the punishment of Eve.  And since she is the mother of all the living, then we are all children of her womb. We have received of her flesh and blood; and we now must share in her sorrow; we must contribute to her grief; we must participate in the pain of her sin.

“In sorrow, you shall bring forth children.” Eve experiences the fullness of this punishment in the martyrdom of Abel. She surrenders both her sons to a conflict with the devil and loses them both; as the tyranny of death is revealed in both the murderer and the martyr. As any mother could tell you, her grief must have been profound. Yet, the sorrow of Eve reaches its completion in St. Mary, the Mother of our Lord.

Today, St. Mary is often simply idealized; she is known for her virginity, her chastity, and her humility; she is righly remembered for her role in the joy and mystery of Christmas— the day her virginity is transformed into the joy of motherhood.

She is the mother of God himself, the Holy Theotokos (as the ancient church confessed).  Yet, in this great mystery there is also a great tragedy. For her womb is not only the place where the Son of God becomes flesh, but also the place where the Son of God begins to bear the burden of death. Jesus does not need to wait until the waters of the Jordan to become the sin bearer; already in the womb, the Son of God is immersed in our sin; already from conception, the Lord takes up the cross and is destined for the grave.

St. Ephrem the Syrian, considered by much of Christendom to be the greatest hymn writer of the church, expresses it this way:

“O Lord, a mystery is Thy Mother.  The Lord entered her and became a servant.  The Word entered her and became silent.  The Shepherd entered her and became a Lamb fit for slaughter.  The womb of Thy Mother changed the order of the universe.  The rich went in, He came out poor; the Glorious went in, He came out a slave; He who feeds creation went in, He came out in human hunger and thirst.”

For St. Ephrem, Mary is the fulfillment of Eve’s burden and sorrow. She is the gate of humility; and her womb is the portal that leads Jesus inevitably to the cross.

“In sorrow, you will bring forth children.”  It is the miracle of motherhood, and especially the mystery of Mary’s vocation as the Mother of God, that in spite of the grief and sorrow, she still seeks to give life to her child.

For all of you who know St. Luke’s Gospel, you know that the Christmas story, the Gospel of Jesus Christ begins with the sorrow of his mother; and springs forth from her surrender to the will of the Father. She says, “Let it be unto me according to Thy word” (Luke 1:38). These are the words of a true Mother.  In her submission, the gift of God becomes flesh; the prophetic promises of the past now become the blessed reality of the present.

“Let it be unto me according to Thy word.” With these words, Mary relinquishes her entire being—her flesh, blood, body, and soul—that God might have his way with her. In her surrender, God’s proposal becomes fruitful; her flesh now becomes the garment of God’s Son; her blood courses through his immaculate veins; her womb becomes the temple of the Holy Spirit.

Though this is an astounding mystery, it would still be in sorrow that Mary would give birth to her Son. She is not immune to the consequences of Eve’s sin. Eve, who was meant to be mother of the living, became the mother of the dying.  The fullness of Eve’s sorrow overshadows the virgin of Nazareth.

So Mary is not only called to surrender herself to the will of the Father, but to surrender her own Son to the cross.  And that’s the point of celebrating the Feast of St. Mary, Mother of our Lord. Jesus Christ, crucified for her, for me, and for you.

The Gospel begins with the sorrow of birth but it ends with the bitter grief of the cross, where Mary stands as a silent witness, sharing in the agony of her Son.

Mary’s sorrow is worthy of our reverence; for she loses her child. Jesus bears the fullness of the sin and death with which she and all of us are afflicted. Mary cannot control her Son; she cannot protect him from the devil and his temptations. Mary must simply abandon him to the cross; she must give him up to do battle with death and all the powers of hell.

Her grief on Good Friday must have been overwhelming. No psychological counseling could ease her despair; no positive thinking could remove her wailing and groaning; she could not gain relief by the sweat of her brow. The sorrow of birth could not compare with this grief of her Son’s death. Like Eve before her, Mary is helpless in the face of the grave. The only remedy for her sorrow, the only remedy for the sorrow of Eve and the grief of humanity, would be the return of her Son—living, whole, victorious.

Of course, we all know the end of this story; Easter morning revealed the second birth of Christ, a birth from above, regeneration out of the womb of the grave itself. Here everything is transformed; here sorrow is turned into true and lasting joy; here the grief of the barren is turned into the laughter of the fruitful. For here the mother of the dying is transformed into the mother of the living.

In Mary, Jesus took up the destiny of death; but now in Christ, Mary herself enters into the blessing of true life.

In the passion of Jesus, Mary experiences the rebirth, the regeneration of her own flesh and blood.

It is precisely this regeneration that is present in the waters of Holy Baptism.

“Let it be unto me according to Thy word.” Mary’s faithful surrender is the faith that lives in our hearts through the work of the Holy Spirit.

At the font, we are, indeed, delivered into the hand of our Father that He may do with us as He pleases.

And at this altar, we learn that it is always the Father’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom.

Here Christ is formed in your flesh even as he filled the womb of Mary. Here his shed blood is the atonement for your sin; his crucified and risen body is your strength; his faith lives in your heart; his Spirit inspires your love.

It is surely true that the death of one’s child is the worst of sin’s consequences.  Yet, in Christ, this worst of all afflictions has become a true blessing.

For Mother Mary has received her child back into her arms—safe and victorious; and at this altar, Eve’s sorrow is turned into gladness.  As Luther writes, Jesus gives us all he is and all he has – even his own mother. And thanks be to God that in Christ, we her children, were lost, but now we are found; we were dead, but now we live.

To Christ be all the glory forever and ever.  Amen.


Special credit to Rev. Dr. Jim Bushur for his inspiring preaching on the Feast of St. Mary, Mother of our Lord in the summer term of 2012 at Concordia Theologcial Seminary in Fort Wayne, IN.

About Pastor Hopkins

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