The Admitting of an Associate and The Blessing of an Oblate the Anniversary of her Vow At a Eucharist celebrated under pandemic occupancy restrictions
For reasons we can quite well – if regrettably – understand, this could hardly be called a full house, at least in ordinary church parlance. But I observe we have among us not one Mary but two, a Hannah – on whose ancient song our biblical Mary bases her own, an Elizabeth – to whose hill town home our biblical Mary will soon travel – and the message bearer Gabriel himself. So, (holding up fingers) One Hannah, One Elizabeth, Two Marys and a Gabriel. So let’s think about playing poker. I think, using a very tenuous poker game metaphor, we can safely call this gathering an “‘Ecclesionominal’ Full House.” Certainly a winning hand by anyone’s reckoning. A “full house” indeed, and given that we have a Michael among us, we even have a spare Archangel – perhaps an ace up the sleeve, so to speak. Now, to the matter at hand. The Jewish peasant girl Mary receives a visit from an angel who says that she is to have a son, and that “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end,” that is, if Mary will say “yes” to God. And she does. In one sense, then, Mary is the archetype of the Church. She consents to be the body within whom, within which, God will take on human flesh so that God can honor in a new and marvelous way the promise he through the ages that God would dwell within God’s people. Mary says, “Yes,” and consents to allow God to be born within her and through her. She is Theotokos, the God-Bearer.
You and I are called to allow God to be born within us, so that, through us, God might continually be born anew into the world by who we are and what we do. In that sense, we, too, are Mary, called on by God to be the God-bearers, those who bring flesh and blood to the great God who made the heavens and set the stars in their courses. This means that at the most basic level, we bear God into the world when we honor the promises we made at Baptism to “proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ” and when we “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ouselves and when we “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.” We are God-Bearers when we live the life of an Oblate, when we embrace this community as an Associate. Each time we do these things, in whatever way we do them, the Spirit of God and the Body of Christ take on human flesh as once it did in the womb of Mary the Mother of God. This business of God’s dwelling within us, the people of God, is spoken of in what has become my favorite seasonal collect, The Collect for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, the Sunday each year that is set aside to celebrate Jesus’s mother Mary. These are among its words:
Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself.
The prayer asks God that, as with Mary, God will be so gracious as to make daily, DAILY, within ourselves a house for God to dwell in – a “mansion,” no less. As it was with Mary, so it is with us, we bear God within ourselves and to the world. We fulfill in ourselves our own version of the task given to Mary – to consent to God and to bear God into the world. In the Centering Prayer movement we talk about “consenting to the presence and action of God within” – the presence and action of God within.
God’s presence, the teaching goes, is the Divine Spark in every human being that gives us life and makes us human beings made in the image of God. It is in that sense that we are each a Holy Mary, bearing God within us. But before Mary learns what is to be her future calling and duty, she is addressed by Gabriel who says, “Greetings, favored one.” And it is here we get a sense of what is meant not just by “God’s presence,” but by “God’s action within” us. Gabriel affirms that Mary is favored by God. The teaching of the Christian mystics down through the ages which comes to us by way of Thomas Keating and a host of others is that God’s action within us is God’s continual affirmation of our essential goodness. God’s continual inner affirmation of our essential goodness. The teaching is that at the deepest core of each one of us, God is not only present, but active, eternally affirming us as beloved creatures, as favored ones whose essential goodness God never loses sight of. That action within, that eternal, ever-present affirmation of our essential goodness is taking place right now, at this very moment. It is only for us to be still and rest in God and allow such affirmation to enter into our deepest consciousness and our understanding of ourselves. So Hail, favored ones. Hail, Madeleine-Mary; Hail, Marsha-Mary; Hail, Elizabeth; Hail, Hannah; Hail, Gabriel and Michael, Hail Claudia and Felicity and Karen, and Molly – the Lord is with you and within you. You are not only God- Bearers, but also God’s favored ones. To return to our poker game, let me suggest that what we have here is not just a “ecclesionominal ““full house,” but a royal flush – favored of the Lord and full of Grace.