holy cross sermon for the feast of the assumption of the blessed virgin mary, year c, august 15, 2013

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

“Arise, O Lord, into your resting-place, * you and the ark of your strength,” (Psalm 132.8).

For the past few weeks, on Sunday, I have been talking about how the mass is the fulfillment of the Passover of Israel, how it is OUR Passover, the Passover of the Lord, and about how our celebrating it, our “keeping the feast” is the means by which we participate in – and are incorporated into – Jesus’ “Passover” from death to life. The mass, in short, should be read within the context of the history of Israel, the narrative of the Old Testament. If you really want to understand Jesus and what he did, you need to understand the history of Israel, and of God’s dealings with Israel.

And so it is with the whole of our salvation in Christ, and of the events and characters surrounding and constituting it. In this respect it is helpful to remember that the earliest Church, for the first few generations after the apostles, did not have the New Testament as we know it – it was being written during their lifetime, and they were writing it. And so when, for example, Saint Paul refers in his letters to “the scriptures” (e.g. Romans 15.4), he means the Hebrew Scriptures – what we call the “Old Testament.”

Remember as well that the first disciples of Jesus were all Jews, and that they would have (and did) understand his teachings and actions in terms of their being fulfillments of what God had spoken through Moses and the Prophets. Jesus is, after all, the Jewish Messiah.

Today is the feast of the Assumption of Mary. The Assumption is not something recorded in the Bible, but it is something that is theologically necessary, apparent to the eyes of a limpid faith, and it has been revealed by God to the Church. To put it succinctly, the Assumption of Mary is the dogma “that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.” So wrote Pope Pius XII in 1950, when he officially defined the Assumption of Mary, in an “apostolic constitution” entitled “Munificentissimus Deus” (“most munificent (bountiful) God”).

The holy Mother is the ark of the New Covenant. Just as the ark of the Old Covenant carried within it the manna from heaven, and the tables of the Law, along with Aaron’s rod, so Mary, the ark of the New Covenant, carried within her womb the one toward whom all of the rest of that pointed. Married conceived Jesus within her body, and Jesus was the fulfillment of the Law, the Bread that came down from heaven, and our great high priest. Just as the contents of the old ark pointed to Jesus, so the old ark itself pointed to Mary. And this, by the way, is why I believe, contrary to Stephen Spielberg, that the old ark will never be found. As Scripture says: “the old has passed away, behold, the new has come,” (2 Cor. 5.17).

And so in Psalm 132, when the Psalmist laments the ark’s having been lost and taken away from Jerusalem, he looks forward to a time when God would enter “his resting place,” along with the ark of his strength. The Church reads these passages as referring to the triumph of Jesus on the cross, and we look back to the first foretelling of the victory of Jesus in the third chapter of Genesis, where God curses the serpent, saying: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel,” (Genesis 3.15).

Mary is the woman totally at enmity with the ancient serpent, whose seed, Jesus, crushes the serpent’s head forever. As the Mother of Salvation, Mary shares uniquely in the victory of Jesus: “having completed the course of her earthly life, [she] was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.”

Fine and good, you may say. But what’s the point? Why does it matter? First of all: this teaching is deeply anti-gnostic, a panacea for all Gnosticism. Mary “was assumed BODY AND SOUL into heavenly glory.” She did not just die like other saints, and begin a mode of existence like other saints, because their bodies are still with us. Some of the bones of the North American Martyrs, for example, are with us, here at Holy Cross, in our altar, to this day. The body of Jean Marie Vianney is in the basilica dedicated to him at Ars. St. Ambrose’s body is in the duomo at Milan, and so on. Not so with Mary. Her body, along with her soul, has been assumed into the glory of Jesus’ salvation.

Our salvation is not just a matter of the mind. Jesus didn’t save us by being happy or nice or wise. He saved us by being nailed to a tree. He saved us with his broken body and his spilled blood. And just so, our redemption is not just some noetic dissolution or oneness with the universe, or leaving our bodies behind to float around on clouds, playing spiritual harps. We look for the resurrection of the FLESH, and the life of a world that has yet to be fully realized.

The Assumption of Mary is thus a kind of down-payment on our salvation. Jesus is our great exemplar, but Jesus was hypostatically united to the Godhead. If you want to see the destiny of man, look at this woman. Mary, assumed body and soul into heavenly glory, shows us our destiny in Christ. She shows us the victory that Jesus won for us on the cross. And she shows us that the destiny of our bodies, and what we do with them in the meantime, actually matter a great deal.

Therefore “Arise, O Lord, into your resting-place, * you and the ark of your strength…. Let your faithful people sing with joy.”

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Published by Fr George

Fr George is the priest-in-charge of Holy Cross Dallas

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