Sermon for the Feast of Our Lady @ SMAA, Christchurch

SERMON for FEAST OF THE ASSUMPTION OF THE B.V.M.-

17 AUGUST 2014 – S.M.A.A. – 8AM & 10AM MASSES – Father Ron Smith

The Lord Himself will give you a Sign –

In an earlier section from the Prophecy of Isaiah, we find that Ahaz was given a sign as to the destiny of the House and lineage of David, and its importance for the coming of the promised Messiah: “The Lord Himself will give you a sign. It is this: the maiden is with child and will soon give birth to a son whom she will call Emmanu-el – a word which means ‘God is with us’.

In Paul’s Letter to the Galatians today, we heard the story of the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy: of how “God’s Son, (was) born of a woman, born as a Jew and under the Law – in order to redeem those who were under the Law, so that they might receive adoption as children.”. This was a new situation, where not only Jews, but all who would come to accept Jesus as the Son of God would become the children of God, enabled by the gift of the Holy Spirit in baptism to call God their Father.

Today, when we commemorate the Assumption of Our Blessed Lady into Heaven – a day when our Orthodox Brothers and Sisters commemorate what they are pleased to called the Dormition, or the Falling Asleep of Our Lady; the Church lectionary draws our attention – first – to the prophecies about her role in the coming of the Messiah; and secondly, to the vital part that Mary’s humble obedience actually played in the Incarnation of Jesus, as Messiah and Redeemer of the world.

Over a year ago, while we were in Assisi, my wife, Diana and I were privileged to visit the Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels, a great cathedral-type structure built over the remains of the tiny chapel of the Portiuncula, a word meaning ‘Little Portion’, where Saint Francis of Assisi lived with his friars and ministered to the local lepers – and where he later greeted Saint Clare when she escaped her family to join in the mission of the Brothers, before forming her own Order of Poor Clares later on. On entering the Basilica, one’s attention is immediately drawn to the queue of pilgrims lining up to pray in the tiny jewel of a chapel, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary and All the Angels; for whom Francis, Clare, and all Franciscans down the ages, have maintained a very special devotion.

As the closest human being to the person of Jesus, Mary was seen to be the touchstone between God and all humanity, and thus worthy of special love and devotion.

Later on our journeying in Europe, we took a special train out of the Spanish City of Barcelona to join the pilgrims to the mountain Monastery of Montserrat, where a re-discovered ancient statue of the Blessed Virgin and Child has been placed in a small chapel above the High Altar in the sanctuary of the monastery church. To get to the statue, we had to queue for 1 and 3/4 hours, making our way through the many side-chapels of the monastery building – which afforded us the view of many works of ecclesiastical art, and a reminder of the illustrious stream of visitors from various religious orders in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches that have made their own pilgrimage to Our Lady of Montserrat.

In the queue in front of us were a lovely young English couple who, though they admitted to no particular religious affiliation, still found themselves seeking out the religious shrines of Europe because of what they described as the thrill of the atmosphere of such places. They were quite willing to spend 1.3/4 hours to see the statue, and no doubt would gain something for their trouble. It made us think how God might just be able to work through the curiosity of this young couple to teach them something about the faith of other people, and thereby, perhaps ignite a spark of faith in their own hearts for having taken the trouble to make their pilgrimage.

On this day, 17 August, 2014, there will be Pilgrims processing through the Village of Walsingham (England’s Nazareth) to visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, the site of a appearance of Christ’s Mother to the Lady Richeldis. The Anglican Shrine was renewed after the Reformation and occupies the original site. The former Slipper Chapel – so-named because of its location near the Shrine, was the place where people started their official pilgrimage by removing their shoes and walking barefoot to the shrine proper.

The Slipper Chapel has now been re-built as a large church, and has become the location of the Roman Catholic Shrine pilgrimage – although there is still a small chapel used by the Roman Catholics  within the premises of the original, Anglican Shrine. Also, in the Anglican Shrine, there is a small chapel used by the Orthodox – though they, too, have their own separate Shrine in the village of Walsingham.

My belief in the relevance of Our Lady in my own faith journey took a new direction when I was a Franciscan Brother in Brisbane, attending a charismatic Mass in a small Roman Catholic Church in the suburbs. The Preacher was a Roman Catholic Sister who, during the course of her homily, asked if any of us in the congregation had never known their birth mother. Immediately my ears pricked up. My mother had been ill of a heart complaint when I was born, so that I was delivered by Caesarean Section, and although my mother lived for another 18 months, she was an invalid and unable to take care of me and I was fostered out to another family. Consequently, I had no recollection of my own mother – so what the sister was saying had relevance to me. “Close your eyes”, she said, “and imagine the mother of Jesus standing right in front of you and holding out her arms towards you”, After a few moments, during which the congregation was silent, I had the distinct impression of someone picking me up and enfolding me in their arms. From that moment on, I felt that the Mother of Jesus had become my substitute mother. I had no doubt that the Blessed Virgin Mary was now a factor in my life, and therefore, worthy of my special devotion.

Today’s Gospel at Mass follows on from St. Luke’s description of Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth, whose miraculous pregnancy with John the Baptist had been revealed to Mary at the Annunciation. Luke tells us that Elizabeth greeted Mary with the word’s “Blessed are you among women, and blest is the fruit of your womb.” One has to wonder how on earth Elizabeth could have known of Mary’s situation – except that, as the Gospel tells us: Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, informing her of what was going on. And, as if to corroborate this amazing revelation, we are told the “The child in Elizabeth’s womb leapt for joy” at meeting his cousin – who would become his Saviour – in the womb of Mary. This meeting of the two children, in utero must have been a defining moment for both Mary and Elizabeth – when Mary’s conception of Jesus was actually confirmed.

Mary’s response to Elizabeth’s greeting, as we now know, was spelled out in the words of the Magnificat. “All generations shall call me blest.” So our honouring of Mary and of her Assumption into Heaven can be seen as her due reward for providing the human frame for God’s Son at the Incarnation.

Some Christians have a problem with the thought of Mary being assumed into heaven. However, if it was good enough for the Old Testament Prophet, Elijah, to be taken up into heaven on a whirlwind; would God not be prepared for the Mother of God’s Son to be given a like reward for her faithfulness? Mary is often called the ‘Queen of Heaven’ in Roman Catholic and Orthodox circles, so it behoves us to accord to her the honour she has been given by the universal Church. And so we petition, with all generations of the Church, for the prayers of Our Lady for ourselves and those others who are promised salvation through the sacrifice of her Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ:

“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.” Our heartfelt response might be:

“Holy Mary, Mother of God; pray for us sinners now and in the hour of our death. Amen. Pray for us, O Great Mother of God, Saint Michael and all you God’s Saints, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.”

Father Ron Smith, St. Michael & All Angels, Christchurch, New Zealand

_______________________________________________________________

Below, see the link to the Anglican Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham:

https://www.google.co.nz/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=9&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0CDAQFjAI&url=http%3A%2F%2Fen.wikipedia.org%2Fwiki%2FOur_Lady_of_Walsingham&ei=m__vU9flKo_d8AXMu4CoDA&usg=AFQjCNF8Adu_qeE7P6Vgtv46W_t2HH-XHQ&sig2=IeDui5AohMP9EkrJ22HNVg&bvm=bv.73231344,d.dGc

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About kiwianglo

Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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6 Responses to Sermon for the Feast of Our Lady @ SMAA, Christchurch

  1. murraysmallbone says:

    Dear Fr. Ron,
    A Happy Assumptiontide to you and yours.
    It was with joy I read your personal story.Our Lady is a living reality with you, as she is also to the whole Church.
    My own love affair with Mary could be said to have started on my birth-day; 15 August.
    As a small child when holidaying each year in Brisbane as a family we would go to mass at All Saints, Wickham Terrace, and apart from other fond memories,the memory which has always remained with me is of just going to the statue of the Madonna,and simply standing there.
    Similarily at St. Michaels and All Saints, Edinburgh, I always visited Our Lady before mass.
    In my teenage years I had the honour of being dismissed as a Sunday School teacher in Melbourne, as I had dared teach the Immaculate Conception; those were the Melbourne days.
    Then journeying to St. Peters, Eastern Hill, Melb.,my devotion to Our Lady was further nurtured under Fr. Geoffrey Taylor.
    I have recently been further nurtured by re-reading Rowan Williams’ addresses and sermon at the Lourdes 2008 pilgrimage, wherein he speaks beautifully of the Visitation,drawing our attention to always carrying Christ with us in all our actions as Mary did and still does.

    So. Fr. Ron, thank you for sharing your story.

    Jesu mercy. ! Mary Help of Christians pray for us. !

  2. kiwianglo says:

    Assumtion-tide Greetings to you, too, Murray. Funny, I hadn’t [pictured you as being Australian. I had always thought you might be an habitue of All Saint Maraget Street, in central London. Just shows how wrong one can be.

    However, I have had my times in Australia. First as a travel agent with Burns Philp in Darwin in the early 1970s – where I attended the tiny Cathedral – with Bishop Ken Mason as diocesan bishop.
    Then in Brisbane, as a novice with SSF, in the mid-seventies – during which time I had occasion to visit All Saints, Wickham Terrace, when it was still part of the Anglican diocese. Now, of course, it is in the hands of the ‘No-Women’ entity of nouvelle Anglicanisme.

    St. Peter’s, Eastern Hill, I also know. I was asked to preach at Evensong and Benediction on a visit there some years ago – a lovely congregation. And then, of course, there is my Australian favourite; Christ church St. Lawrence, with which parish we at St. Michael and All Angels in Christchurch have a filial connection.

    I had the great privilege yesterday of presiding at Evensong and Benediction at SMAA, here is Christchurch – with the added attraction of three of ‘The Oxfords’, professional choristers at Christ Church Oxford in the U.K., with which our diocese of Christchurch has an early connection

    Keep the Faith, Jesu, mercy; Mary, pray!
    Love and Prayers, Fr. Ron

    • murraysmallbone says:

      Dear Fr. Ron, thank you for reply.
      Yes, I know Christ Church, St. Laurence, Sydney. I attended High Mass there on my last Sunday in Australia in 1974; it too was a church I attended with my parents on flying visits to Sydney en-ro
      ute to Brisbane. It is now many years since I went to All Saints, Margaret Street.
      Prior to my departure from Aus., I did consider vocation to SSF. Did you know a Br. Rodney ? He was ex st.Peters, Eastern Hill before joining SSF in Brisbane.

  3. kiwianglo says:

    Yes, Murray. I knew Brother Rodney, S.S.F. quite well. He was in the N.Z. Friary, when I first made contact with SSF. He was then posted to the U.S., where he did great ministry among the down-and-outs. He died some time ago. May he rest in peace..

  4. Brian Ralph says:

    It is a small world, Bishop Ken Mason regularly worshipped at St James King Street and sat in a pew near me when I was there. I have not noticed him on my occasional return visits in recent years. I also have a close friend, an ex-student from my first year of teaching so only about 6 years younger, who now is a parishioner at St Peter’s Eastern Hill. Eric at the time I taught him also attended the same evangelical church in Sydney as me so had a similar battle as me with coming to terms with his sexuality. Like me, but unlike most I knew in similar circumstances at the time, he moved to find acceptance in Anglo-catholicism rather than reject the church altogether.

  5. kiwianglo says:

    Thanks, Brian, for your input here. It is largely true, I think, that Anglo-Catholics are more inclined to accept the fact that homosexuality is a reality in Church life – as well as in the great wide world. Perhaps this is why so many Anglo-Catholic clergy in the Anglican Communion elect to remain single – so as not to be constrained to what many conservative Evangelicals see as the need to marry and have children to find ‘fulfillment’. Their sacrifice of a fuller emotional sexual relationship with another person is the celibate A.C.clergy-person’s personal sacrifice for the sake of, and in service of, their clerical vocation.
    Thanks for sharing. Peace and Joy!

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