(Originally posted in April 2014. Updated, edited and reposted for the Feast of the Annunciation, 2022.)
Today, March 25, the church celebrates the Feast of the Annunciation, a fact that normally escapes my attention most every March 25th, and it most certainly did in 2014. (After all, there’s not much need for me to note “Just nine more shopping months ’til Christmas!”) But 3/25 on the 2014 calendar “just happened” to come on a Tuesday, and on that particular Tuesday I “just happened” to make it to the small Tuesday evening Eucharist celebrated each week in my home parish. The Celebrant, The Rev. Lisa Saunders, “just happened” to inform the dozen or so assembled faithful about that day’s significance.
That particular Lent, Mary was on my mind – a lot.
Maybe I was just taken by the Gospel reading about Gabriel’s surprise visit to this young Nazarene girl. Standing before an Archangel, I’m not t all sure I would react with Mary’s sanguine aplomb at some other-worldly being suddenly appearing before me with a hearty, “Greetings, favored one!”
Being “perplexed” would be the least of my reactions. Call me faithless and crazy but I’m thinking Gabe’s reassurance that “The Lord is with you” would somehow strike me as less than reassuring.
Whatever the reason, the term “…born of the Virgin Mary” has now become one of those phrases that just seems to jump out during the liturgy. It is important to note that the term which is often translated to “virgin” in English simply connotes a young unmarried woman of child-bearing age. Most scholars agree that the term in original scripture says more to being a “maiden” than any statement about sexual “purity.” Regardless, it is her obedience, her surrender, her willingness to walk the unknowable path of the Unknown that has taken more and more of a focus this particular Lent.
As she stood there pondering this sudden proposal from some strange messenger claiming to speak for the Omnipotent Creator, Mary could never have known what all was to come. Indeed, if we as God’s children truly do have God’s awful gift of free will, I wonder sometimes if God actually knew what all was to come?
I love Frederick Buechner’s take on Gabriel’s task in selling Mary on the whole idea…
“(Mary) struck the angel as hardly old enough to have a child at all, let alone this child. But he’d been entrusted with a message to give her, and he gave it…
As he said it, he only hoped she wouldn’t notice that beneath the great, golden wings he himself was trembling with fear to think that the whole future of creation hung now on the answer of a girl.”
— from Peculiar Treasures
I can never know the anguish, angst and anxiety that a mother feels watching her son take a fearful path. I have witnessed it, though, in my own mother, in the lives of some women I’ve been blessed to know in my life, and in the mother of my own son. It may not be the pain of nails that pierce flesh and bone, but it is searing pain nonetheless and it deeply pierces the human heart.
Jesus’ decision to go to the cross was a sacrifice willingly made, thanks be to God. Mary’s unspeakable sorrow and suffering, watching her child endure that cross, was not.