Reading: Galatians 4:1–7
Oh, if ever there were a day when we Lutherans need to beware of throwing the babe out with the bath water, it is today. In the Churches of the Roman communion throughout the length and breadth of the whole world, this day is celebrated as a high, holy feast. It is the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, the day when without experiencing death, Christ took His mother from this earth and set her at His side upon the throne of heaven, being the Queen Mother, if you will. The Orthodox speak of this as the day of her Dormition, her falling asleep in her Son, really dying, but they too have a fairly strong tradition of Mary being then granted the grace of resurrection before the general resurrection, taken by her Son into His glorious presence body and soul. And for both Rome and our Eastern sisters and brothers, Mary rather early on became the one to whom you could go in prayer and receive certain help and aid. Moms are softies, you know.
It was with good cause that the Reformers of the 16th century, no matter what their other differences, all agreed that the practice of calling upon the Virgin, despite its huge popularity among the people, and despite it having established itself in the Church many centuries before, simply led down a path contrary to the Scriptures. In fact, the extent to which the Virgin was turned to rather than the Blessed Trinity led them to raise the charge of idolatry against the practice, turning to the creature for what really only can be found in the Creator.
Some of the Reformers, therefore, thought the best route was to pitch overboard the whole blasted thing, the entire cult of Mary and the saints. But of interest and importance to us today as Lutheran Christians is that the Lutheran Reformers and their churches did nothing of the kind. They put an end to any public prayers that called upon the Virgin or any of the other saints and repeatedly reminded the people that even if the saints could hear and grant such prayers, we have all things better in Christ. And He is no harsh judge, aloof and unconcerned about you. He WANTS you to come to Him and to pray to Him for each and every need you have. He promises that His Father is now your Father and that he loves you. He sends His Spirit to you to help when you do not know how to pray as you should.
But if the Lutherans put a dead stop to all invocation of the saints, the commemoration of the feasts of the Virgin and other saints continued. The Annunciation, the Visitation, this day in some places, and even Mary’s nativity in September continued to be celebrated. But Mary, instead of being the great exception, was lifted up as the Scriptures portray her, to be the great example. She is the one who hears the promises of God, believes them, treasures and ponders them in heart even when she can’t understand them, and she is the one whose last recorded words in Scripture direct us away from her and towards her Son: “Whatever He tells you, do it.”
Lutherans love Mary. We love her because she is the woman spoken of in today’s reading: the woman chosen by God to give birth to His Son. Mary is Mother of God as our Confessions are not afraid to assert. But our joy this is not in Mary’s exaltation alone. Rather, we see in the Incarnation that the Eternal Word became the child of Mary for only one reason: to make us be the Children of God. He became in Mary’s womb what we are by nature so that He could deliver to us everything that is His by the grace of adoption. And what we were by nature was pretty hopeless. Think of it! Mired in sin that continues to well up from the depths of your being; and so destined to physical death, yes. But more. Headed to eternal death, to hell. And so He comes among us, as one of us! Because God became Mary’s Son, you are no longer slaves. You are heirs. Heirs of God. Joint heirs with Christ. All that is His, yours. And this because He came to make all that is yours, His. Your sin, His. Your death, His. Your hell, His. All of it. That’s the mystery of the Cross. And its converse is the mystery of Holy Baptism where all that is His, He now yours: His Father, your Father; His Kingdom, your kingdom; and yes, His mother, YOUR mother. “Behold, your son…behold, your mother.” That word from the Cross to the disciple “whom Jesus loved” - that would include you! - shows that literally “all things are yours.” Even Mary.
Luther had the hang of it in a sermon for Christmas day: “O, this is the great joy of which the angel speaks. This is God’s comfort and His surpassing goodness, that man (if he believes) may glory in such a treasure that Mary be his very mother, Christ his brother and God his Father… See, then, that thou makest this birth thine own and dost change with Him… Thus dost thou surely sit in the Virgin Mary’s lap and art her darling child.” Day by Day, p. 33.
There is something comforting about that fierce little Hebrew lady who had more than a bit of the warrior Deborah about her, being your mother! That woman who could sing the Magnificat praising nothing but God and His grace toward her and how He lifted up his handmaiden from her low estate so that every generation would call her blessed. And every generation has.
Jesus’ mom, your mom. Because you’re one family in Him. All His brothers and sisters. And today we remember the day His mom and ours fell asleep in faith in Him. What happened to her next, much as we might want to speculate and hypothesize, is frankly none of our business. If God had wanted us to know, He’d have caused it to be written down in the Scriptures. But this we may be sure of: she commended herself into her Son’s hands and she knew that He was the forgiveness of all sin and the destruction of death itself. Her Jesus, her very flesh and blood, had conquered them forever. And not just for her. But for you.
Don’t pray to her; but do love her. Don’t picture her more kindly than you picture her Son; but join all generations in blessing her, “O Higher than the Cherubim and more Glorious than the Seraphim”, as we’re about to sing. And remember with joy her determination to hold tight to the Words spoken and never let them be taken from her. Then you too will be ready for your death, whenever it comes. Held securely by the promises of Mary’s Son, your Jesus, until you join her with all saints in the unending praise of your Lord. But why wait till then? Let’s join her and them now. Please stand and turn to hymn 670: “Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones.”