ST MARY THE VIRGIN
Although August 15 is not a Prayer Book holy day, it seems hardly credible that we have no feast in honor of the gentle and lovely woman most intimately involved in the Incarnation. From early times, August 15 has been celebrated as her day. It has been marked by various names. The most ancient and universal title for this feast is the Dormition of Our Lady. That is an unfamiliar word which means "falling asleep." It emphasizes that St Mary was not a martyr, as were most of the saints whose feasts are kept in the Prayer Book kalendar.
In more modern times, this day has come to be called the Feast of the Assumption, celebrating a post-Biblical legend that after her death Mary's body did not decompose but was miraculously transported to the heavens. Before we reject this pious opinion too quickly, we must acknowledge that the New Testament gives some tantalizing hints of such a belief. St Paul wrote (I Thess. 4:17) of those who will be "caught up together in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air," and St John penned a majestic description (Rev. 12) of the "woman clothed by the sun." So rather than giving undue honor to the Mother of God, the picture of Mary already in glory shows the ultimate destiny of every Christian. "Be ye faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life" is Christ's promise to her and to us as well.
Even if Scripture is silent concerning the end of Mary's earthly life, the Church has given her the title "Mother of God." That appellation still offends many, just as it offended the heretic Nestorius. He was willing to call her "Mother of Christ," but not "Mother of God." "Mother of God" seems to imply something false, that Mary is the mother of the Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, as if Mary herself were a Goddess from eternity. Such a notion would be beyond heresy, a leap into sheer paganism.
When we say, as we must say, that the Virgin Mary was the Mother of God, we are saying quite emphatically that the One to whom she gave birth was none other than God in the flesh. Her Son Jesus Christ was and is Deity Incarnate. So the title "Mother of God" at bottom line is not a statement about Mary herself but a statement about the One to whom she was Mother.
From the moment she surrendered herself to the Archangels's message ("Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word") until the day of Pentecost when she was occupying an honored place amongi the apostles, we see Mary as the most faithful and obedient disciple, the model for all Christians. Concerning her we sing, "O higher than the cherubim, more glorious than the seraphim, lead their praises; thou bearer of the eternal Word, most gracious, magnify the Lord." LKW
Today we read from one of the greatest and most powerful chapters of the NT, 1 Corinthians 15, the “Resurrection chapter.” This chapter is the first selection appointed for reading in the Burial Office (BCP p. 328) and is also the source for the final portion of the Easter canticle (p. 163).
It seems truly strange that even in St. Paul's lifetime, before the NT was completely written, the resurrection of our Saviour was already a matter of dispute. “Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?” (verse 12). Paul does not say “some among them” (the unbelievers) but rather “some among you,” professing Christians and members of the Church. The Christian Church has always had the problem of unbelief within its own ranks.
In Jesus' lifetime, the major difference between the two principal sects of Judaism, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, was belief in the resurrection at the last day. Even before Christ, the Pharisees affirmed it and the Sadducees denied it. (While the Pharisees disputed with Him, it was the Sadducees who were most eager to see Him crucified.) And of course the pagan Gentiles did not believe in a resurrection either, looking for no more than “passing away into a better place.”
This Sadducee attitude, combined with the vague notions of the Gentiles regarding immortality, had somehow penetrated the Christian community. There were those willing to say “Jesus is Lord” who had not fully come to terms with His empty tomb.
The Christian message is not one of vague wistful hopes of intangible immortality. Our Gospel is one of complete victory, over sin, death, and hell. The victory over sin was established at the cross. The victory over death and hell was established at the empty tomb. This resurrection is no mere doctrine, but a fact of space-time history, guaranteed by numerous eye-witnesses.
What difference does it all make? St Paul expresses that bluntly in the opening verse of the chapter: “the gospel which I preach unto you ... by which ye are saved...” If our dear Lord had not left that tomb, but only continued to exist in some flimsy half-life, then we would be truly wretched creatures, still lost, defeated, imprisoned in our sins. “But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” LKW