31 May 2019Luke 1:39-49
'… blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.' (v. 45)
Psalm: Psalm 113
Sometimes, the lectionary can feel like a dizzying trip in the Tardis. It seems a little strange, the day after celebrating Jesus’ ascension into heaven, to jump back 30-odd years to a pregnant Mary visiting her relative Elizabeth, who herself is pregnant with John the Baptist. In the Western Church, the Feast of the Visitation was moved in 1969 from 2 July to 31 May, so that it would fall between the days when we remember the Annunciation and the start of Mary’s pregnancy (on 25 March) and the birth of John the Baptist (24 June), and so that the story might be told in a more logical order. But, each year, there are the peculiar moments of tension and resonance that come from holding all the parts of the story – Jesus’ birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension – together.
At centre stage in this passage are two women who are living proof that nothing is impossible for God (Luke 1:37). Mary, a virgin, who will nevertheless give birth to the Son of God (Luke 1:30-35) and Elizabeth, who was “getting on in years” and had believed herself to be barren (Luke 1:7), who is nevertheless in the sixth month of her pregnancy. These stories – and those of other women in the Bible whose longing for a child is miraculously fulfilled, such as Sarah (Genesis 21:1-7) and Hannah (1 Samuel 1:1-20) – are a reminder of God’s supreme authority, and a cause for celebration. But they can also be painful reading for those women and men who have longed and prayed for a child but have been unable to conceive.
It is important to see in this passage that Mary and Elizabeth are much more than passive vessels for their two great sons. Elizabeth is filled with the Spirit and recognises Mary’s unborn child as “Lord” (vs. 41-43). Mary’s song of praise (commonly called the ‘Magnificat’) that begins in verse 46 and continues to verse 55 is a radical, prophetic outpouring that paves the way for Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom of God in which the old order of things will be inverted.
- Take a look at this image. How does it compare to other images you have seen of Mary?
- How might churches better celebrate the breadth of roles that women play in the Bible?
- Compare the words of the Magnificat with the Sermon on the Plain later in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 6:20-26). What similarities and differences do you notice?