Patronal Festival

Rev'd Heather
Sunday, September 8, 2019 - 5:45pm

What a fantastic saint for a church to be dedicated to – St Mary. It’s taken me a while to discover Mary beyond the images that I grew up with – images of a young woman meek, mild, submissive to God, depicted so often in art with the infant Jesus, her face calm and serene and full of adoration.

But I wonder if that’s the right image. It was wonderful to hear that last year you took the opportunity at the Patronal Festival to hear Mary’s story, with excerpts from throughout the Gospel. A woman who followed God’s calling on her life through times of great joy and great pain – the woman who carried Jesus in her womb, gave birth to him, nursed him, presented him at the temple, fled to Egypt as refugees together, felt that panic of losing her child at the temple, was able to persuade him to turn water into wine at the wedding of Cana, visited him when preaching – only to be snubbed by him, and then for her son to be crucified – and rise again. Quite a story for a poor young woman from Galilee.

I’ve been thinking this week, what would happen if Mary’s story was set today, in this age when it is so easy to post your own pictures online. The images we have of Mary are those that artists have drawn or painted and each picture is naturally influenced by their imagination. But what images might Mary upload to define herself if she had the chance of using a social media platform like Instagram or Facebook. What would be the accompanying hashtags, the key words that accompany her pictures and succinctly highlight what is going on.

There are a few hashtags she might use: Faith. Joy. Thanksgiving. Justice. Transformation.

Faith. Mary’s faith is clearly evident in Luke’s Gospel. Not only in her words to the Angel Gabriel upon hearing that she should bear the child of God: ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ But also in the Magnificat – Mary’s song – our Gospel reading for today. She’s clearly familiar with the prophetic song of Hannah in 1 Samuel, for Hannah’s words are so similar to those we just heard:

The Lord raises the poor from the dust,
 He lifts the needy from the dunghill
to give them a place with princes,
to assign them a seat of honour.

I could imagine the devout Mary sharing images of her favourite verses of scripture – similar to what we did at the discussion group here on Monday. #faith

Joy. Mary’s song is bursting with joy. She’s gone to visit her relative Elizabeth, who is also miraculously pregnant – soon to be the mother of John the Baptist – and the two of them are celebrating their amazing, unexpected, blessings from God. If you’ve ever been to evensong – say at a Cathedral – you will have heard the Magnificat, and probably heard it sung with great beauty. But sometimes in such a formal setting, and sung so often – it can lose some of that raw joy of this first encounter. Of two women who are so excited about what God is doing in their lives. Who are sharing with each other the. most. exciting. news. ever. Imagine images of radiant smiles, tears of laughter. #joy

Thanksgiving. Again it radiates through the song. Mary recalls all that God has done. He has looked with favour upon her, and upon so many others. ‘He has done great things for me.’ He has lifted them up, filled them with good things. Mary is counting her blessings - there is much to be thankful for – not just this one great act of becoming the mother of God, but also all those little ways in which God is acting in her life and the lives of those around her. Imagine pictures of the everyday. Everyday blessings. #thanksgiving

Justice. Mary is so outward looking in her song. This amazing event is happening to her, and she connects it with all that is going on for others. In its context it seems to reference Israel – a nation that is lowly and hungry and now God is going to restore its fortunes. But what are the situations in the world that need justice today? Which campaigns would she be posting images of? Where would she hope to see fortunes turned around? Would she be living in one of the poorest nations of the world – affected by climate change, or at a garment workers factory campaigning for a living wage? #justice

Transformation. This is at the heart of Mary’s song. You can hear her sing: God’s divinity is transforming my humanity; God’s riches are transforming my poverty; ‘God’s transforming my life the way that pregnancy is transforming my body, making it full of promise and expectation and fertility and joy.’ And transformation is at the heart of the Christian faith too. A God who comes to live with us on earth and enters the darkest of moments to transforms the darkness of death into the light of new life. Yet transformation happens on so many levels for us – whenever our poverty (the things that hold us back and stop us living life to the fullest – be that attitudes or experiences) are transformed into riches. Mary’s song radiates a newfound hope and confidence in the future. A strong belief that God is at work in her life. I wonder what image represents that for you? #Transformation.

Mary is a woman of deep faith, who is filled with joy, thanksgiving, and an acute awareness of justice as God transforms her life. What a woman. And what an inspiration for us here at St Mary’s. The challenge for us today is to take Mary’s song and make it our own. Many of the hymns we’re singing in our act of worship here today are inspired the Magnificat – let’s do so joyfully, and to consider how the images she brings to mind inspire us.