15 August 2016Galatians 4:4-7
“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law.” (v. 4)
Psalm: Psalm 45
For Roman Catholic Christians, today is the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, based on the ancient belief that Mary, at the end of her life, was taken body and soul directly into heaven. Although this was only made formal Catholic doctrine in 1950, it has been part of the liturgical celebration of Catholics for many centuries and is expressed in countless works of art. Behind the story of Mary's assumption is the belief that she holds a key role in the family of those who are members of the body of Christ, that as well as having been the mother of Jesus she is also, in a sense, the mother of all those who are joined to Christ through baptism and the Christian life.
Within the Methodist Church you are unlikely to hear a reference to the assumption of Mary, and there are good reasons for questioning its historical credibility as a literal story. But Methodists, in common with most Christians in the Protestant tradition, have been so wary of what they see as the excesses of Catholic devotion to Mary that they have almost completely neglected her, airbrushing Mary out of the story of Jesus Christ. Today's passage, from Paul's letter to the Galatians, gives us a gentle reminder that we cannot tell the story of Jesus without referring to his mother. What Paul seems to be saying is this: just as in Jesus God came to share the life of a human family, so Christians now find themselves in a new family-relationship with God. This new relationship means that we are so intimately joined to Christ that we share his relationship to God as father. 'Abba' is simply an Aramaic word that means 'Father'. Early Christian writers were fond of saying that 'God became as we are so that we might become as God is'. This means that the ancient tradition of referring to Mary as 'Mother of God' is a true reflection of the biblical story. It simply bears witness to the truth of the incarnation, that in Jesus the eternal Son of God entered into the fabric of human life.
In the contemporary West we tend to focus on individual identity. That is true, even in our spirituality. The culture in which Paul wrote (like many non-Western cultures today) had a much stronger sense that we are only who we are through our family and community relationships.
- How might our spirituality be enriched by taking the role of Mary more seriously?
- How has your personal identity been shaped by your family relationships? What difference could it make if you shared the family relationship with God enjoyed by Jesus?