15 August, 2011

Homily for Evensong - First Evening Prayer of the Assumption 2011

When I was growing up I used to spend most summers in Tuscany, in the village where my mother is from. It’s a tiny village on the side of a secluded valley with a lot of religion going on, at least it was then. I used to be an altar boy and help out the local parish priest, don Aldo who if anything, taught me about a sense of duty and reverence for liturgy and the things of God under any circumstances.
In August, the village used to celebrate the patronal festival for St Laurence on 10th with a solemn Eucharist, a fair, solemn evensong; although the climax of the celebrations was a long procession with a tall statue of Laurence holding his iron grid and precariously carried on the shoulders of some men.
A few days later, on 15th August, the village would hold a similar celebration for the Assumption of the BVM; a solemn Eucharist, another fair, more solemn vespers and yes; another procession... the lot.
As it happened, on the other side of the valley, another village held their patronal festival on that day as their church was dedicated to the Assumption. So in the end two candlelit processions moved on the two side of this little valley, filling the evening air with little lights that moved slowly following statues of Our Lady. The sounds too were incredible; for most of the day the joyful sound of bells filled the valley as one village church gave its turn to the other in proclaiming its joy. There were no rivalry or struggles between the villages; only a sense of utter joy and the same thrilled expectation you might have at Easter or Christmas.

The Assumption of the BVM is one of the most ancient feasts which the universal Church keeps in honour of the Mother of God celebrating her entrance into heaven body and soul through the power of her Son, Jesus Christ. This marks the fulfilment of all the great mysteries which characterised Mary’s life from its very beginning.
I know that in the Church of England many feel very uncomfortable with such a feast. This uneasiness often also spreads to general devotion to the Virgin Mary as many barricade themselves behind the “it’s not scriptural” clause. At some point in my faith journey I have shared similar reserves towards the Assumption, but only towards the strictly dogmatic enforcement of this belief as adopted by some of our sister churches. That is to say, I would not want to force the Assumption of Our Lady into the mysteries of faith necessary for salvation, but as an Anglican I can tell you that I am rediscovering this feast as cause of joy, of complete wonder at the goodness of God and as a cause of renewed hope.
The mystery of the Assumption presents itself not as a plain, simple, straightforward event which is directly lifted out of Scripture; but rather as a faithful meditation of the universal Church on Scripture and on the teachings of the Apostles.
In her earthly life, Mary showed herself as the most faithful example of discipleship and openness to the will of God; becoming the mother of our Saviour she also became the mother and the model of the Church. In her Assumption, Mary does what Mary always does in Scripture and in praying for us; she points us towards her Son, Jesus Christ. In this feast, Mary shows forth God’s power and redeeming plan for humanity; for the Church believes since the earliest centuries that what happened to Mary today also awaits all those whom God has redeemed in Christ.
The joy, wonder and hope are summed up in this then; that God, who demonstrated his boundless goodness and power to save in His Son Jesus Christ, has also bestowed on us grace upon grace by giving us an example of how this glorious redemption is going to work out. In the Assumption, Mary points us to Jesus and towards our real end; that is the eternal, beatific vision of God not in some ethereal dimension, but face to face as we see a friend.
And so, our Church may have forgotten about the feast of the Assumption and Tuscan piety seems perhaps a little far from our lukewarm Anglican ways but Mary still remains our mother and we would do well to honour her Assumption and our future.

And so let us ask Our Lady to pray for us, that we may be made worthy of the Christ promise of eternal, resurrected life with Him and his Saints; a promise she already enjoys.

Let us pray,
When for us the Sun is setting
at the close of life’s brief day;
when our little ship is nearing
port in yonder crystal bay;
then, our beloved Mother,
stretch thy kind hand out to us,
shield us, ‘til our feet have touch’d
the shore sand of eternity.

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