Homily for the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Homily (Sermon) - Mary, Taken Body and Soul.

The Readings for the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary:
First         Apoc 11:19; 12:1-6,10
Psalm     Psalm Ps 44
Second   1Cor 15:20-26
Gospel   Luke 1:39-56
Notes:  Different readings for vigil & day. This homily is for the day.
[These readings can be found, with the reading for the vigil, at www.universalis.com for the next few weeks.] 

On most Sunday's we are treated to readings from the Old Testament, the Psalms, the New Testament and the Gospels. Today we didn't have and Old Testament reading instead we heard  a reading from the book of the Apocalypse. So it might surprise you then to learn that in preparing to speak to you today, I have spent considerable time reading the old Testament. All our readings today have their originals and much of there symbolism rooted in the Old Testament, and it's important for us to understand this, if we are going to understand and believe in the promise made to us today.

The promise is simply this, that Death is not an end for us, but the start of something new. Mary in so many ways is an example to us, and today, as we commemorate the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is no different. When Mary's life on earth came to an end her body did not decay. Instead, her Son, Jesus Christ, assumed her into heaven, body and soul. Mary was the first, Jesus loved his mum, why shouldn't she be the first. But the promise to us, is that she won't be the last.

So lets take a closer look at how this promise was won for us, but from Heavens point of view as John describes in his Vision, from the book of the Apocalypse.

Readings from this book can often seem confusing as there is a huge amount of symbolism and today's no exception. In the very first line we hear Heaven opens to reveal the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark symbolises Gods love and promises to Israel, and it would normally be kept behind two curtains in the temple and only seen by the high priest. The fact that it is revealed to all, tells us God is about to show his glory and keep those promises and not just to Israel but to every nation... To us.

Next we see a pregnant woman, clothed in the sun, standing on the moon, surrounded by twelve stars. It's easy today, particularly if your familiar with the images on a miraculous medal to see this as Mary, and I don't want to disagree with that, but it's also more than that. The images used here have been used in the bible before, in the psalms and the Song of Solomon to describe the bride of God. And as we think of the Church as Christ's bride, so the Jewish people thought of the nation of Israel as the Bride of God. So this women also represents the bride of God, the people of Israel, who are about to produce the saviour of us all. After the birth she may also represent our Church, as she is protected by God in the desert.

Next appears the Dragon, the bible has linked this image previously with chaos and Satan, in the books of Isaiah and the psalms. It's seven crowned heads, symbolise complete power over all the kingdoms of earth. The dragons tail then drags a third of the stars from the sky. This image of the stars being dragged from the sky can also be found in Daniels vision of the end of time. The stars represent all of us, and it shows how easy it is for any of us to fall to the temptations of Satan.  The dragon then waits to destroy Christ as he is born, but the Dragon is defeated as God snatches the child to heaven. That victory is Christ's passion, resurrection and ascension. We have just seen Christ's victory over Death, told from Heavens point of view.

Next we heard Paul telling the Corinthians of this victory. He uses similar language, that Christ must be king and place all his enemies under his feet, the last being death itself. Paul goes on to  describes Jesus as the first fruits, and this needs a little more explaining, because it means more than just being first. Every year at passover Jews would bring the first shelf of barley to the temple. The law of Moses says, it should be harvest from common ground, not prepared soil. That the priests prepared this barley in a strict way and have it milled it into flour then baked into bread to offer to God. This bread was the first fruits, and before these first fruits were offered, no harvesting of the rest of the crop was allowed. The connection between Christ as First Fruits and Christ as our Eucharist is strong. Christ gave up his life, defeated death and became our Eucharist, and through partaking in that Eucharist he promises us life with him.

Our Gospel reading is a favourite of mine. Mary's visit to Elizabeth, and the wonderful prayer Mary said in response to Elizabeth's welcome. And once again we can find the origins of that prayer, the Magnificat, in the old testament. It's based on the prayer of Hannah, who's story is told at the start of the book of Samuel. Hannah had not managed to have children and prayed to the lord for a child, the Lord listened and Hannah conceived a child by her husband, she dedicated the child to God. And he grew up to be the prophet Samuel who consecrated both Saul and David as kings of Israel. Mary was a young girl, un-married and pregnant, she had just said yes to the Lord, she had agreed to his will and to become part of his plan. As Mary prayed the Magnificat she was thinking back to those who had served God before her. Leaning from them, following their example. And that in itself is a great example for us to follow, if we are going to say yes to the Lord when he asks us to be part of his plan.

We are called to look back and learn from John and Paul, from Daniel from Samuel, from the law of Moses, and today particularly from Mary.

If we follow Mary's example today we should know our scriptures, draw wisdom from them to help us in our everyday life and reflect on them in our prayer. We should praise God, thank God, ask God for his help, for ourselves and others. Mary has given us many prayers, from the Magnificat to the Rosary. Let us look to Mary for our example as we accept the challenges of life as a follower of Christ today.

But let us also take encouragement from Mary as we remember today's promise, Mary was the first taken body and soul to heaven, but she won't be the last.

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