Our Monthly Midweek service was tonight, which is the Dormition of the Blessed Virgin Mary (That means her death). So, what is an LCMS Lutheran (with not a single church named after her) to say about the Mother of our Lord?
Find out after the jump
Today, the calendar tells us, is the commemoration of St. Mary, the Mother of our Lord. Historically, the tradition of the church is to celebrate a saints day not on the birthday, but on the day when they enter the church triumphant. So, this day was “The Dormition of the Blessed Virgin Mary.” Dormition is a fancy word for sleep, and it meant her death. Why the word dormition is used only for her, and no other saints, is a bit a mystery. Perhaps to separate it from other days that involve her on the calendar – Christmas, the annunciation, and so forth. Perhaps it is an acknowledgement of her singular place in salvation history as the mother of God. Either way, that is what it was called for many years. A pastor brought a copy of an old Roman Catholic catechism to a conference. It was printed sometime in the 1940’s. The question was asked, did Mary die? The answer: Yes, she did. Then, somewhere about 1952, the word came down from Rome: No, she did not die, she was bodily assumed into heaven. This causes a bit of a conflict in all the ancient churches in Europe, which have carvings of the life of Mary, including carvings of her death. But, the teaching changed, for whatever reason, and there was a push for some time not only to label Mary perfect, and without death, but also “co-redemptrix” – that is, that her sufferings in seeing her son die also somehow contribute to our salvation. Fortunately, Rome has not gone that far at this point.
All of this leaves Lutheran’s a little bit wary about the Bearer of Christ. How are we to properly honor her? On the one hand, we don’t want to ignore her. Her cousin Elizabeth, speaking by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, calls her “blessed among women.” Mary, also speaking by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, says, “from this day, all generations will call be blessed.” So, we do want to give her her proper place of honor in the church. On the other hand, we don’t want to appear to romanistic in what we say or do. While the church where Luther preached in Wittenberg is called Saint Mary’s, the LCMS doesn’t have a single church with that name. We have our Saint Paul’s and Saint John’s and Saint Matthews, Saint Luke’s, Saint Andrews, etc. But no Saint Mary’s.
Somehow, I don’t think she would mind. After all, in the Gospel reading, she says, “For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed” But then she follows it with: “for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” Her song is a song of praise to the one who was, and is and is to come.
It does us no good to invent special honors for Mary, as if she has not been honored enough to be called a forgiven sinner and child of God, by virtue of the work of her own son on her behalf. Imagine introducing a military hero. And, you are so excited that you start inventing awards that this person did not win. Would they be honored by these false honors? Or would they consider themselves insulted that you could not stop with those honors actually bestowed on them? Would that person not feel the need, to immediately correct the record? So, calling Mary sinless, or without death, does not honor her. Those are pretend honors. She did not seek them, they are not true, and were she here, she would say, “Stop all this. Indeed, you have talked about me long enough. Talk about my Son.” For that is what she does. “He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” God helps his servant Israel. Throughout the history of Israel, God takes care of them, bringing them back to himself when they stray, keeping them from destruction, preserving them, and preserving his word among them. The promise to Abraham is not just that he would have a lot of descendants. It is also that through Abraham all nations of the earth would be blessed – that is, that a savior would be given. And so, Mary recounts this in her song of praise. She isn’t singing her own praises here. She is singing the praises of God, who has so blessed her by allowing her to be a part of his plan.
From our perspective, as those who look to the saints as examples of faith and love toward God, we see in Mary humility, trust, patience. Being a single pregnant woman was harder then that it is now. It could have ended in her death. But God promised to take care of her, and she trusted in him. Even as she had to break the news to Joseph. Even as she waited for the inevitable divorce – a divorce that was cancelled after the angel spoke to Joseph as well. The two of them trusted in God’s promise. Joseph raised Jesus as his own, without complaint. Mary looked to the one who “brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate.” Mary’s song is about her Son. She knew that her life wasn’t about her, it was about Jesus. We celebrate the day of a saint’s death because it isn’t about their life and all that they accomplished. It is about the life given them by Jesus Christ. The same is true for the mother of our Lord. It’s still about Jesus.
Through her, God brought his Son into the world. God used her to bless, not only all mothers, but all people of the earth. This was the culmination of thousands of years of prophecies. This was the day that Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, the kings and the prophets, all longed to see, and yet did not. The birth of the Savior. God made flesh for you.
Now, through God’s work, not only have all people been blessed, but blessed with a singular distinction – God has become one of us. We have been lifted high above even the angels. For as glorious as they are, God did not become one of them. God became as you are – with arms and legs, just as you have, tempted as you are, but without sin, and dying as you will, but in His case, without corruption. And the death of Jesus shows the way that you will go. Through death and into life.
As Elizabeth said to Mary, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” So also you are blessed by that fruit of Mary’s womb. You have been raised up, you have been exalted, you have been helped by the most high God. For Jesus has come. He has died for you. Now, you have life. Now, you can die a blessed death, as did Mary, as have all the saints who have gone before and who now rest from their labors. Thanks be to God.