Monday, March 21, 2005

Listening to Mary

I have the sermon today for our community Lenten Lunches. I was assigned to talk about Mary the Mother. I decided to go with a first person voice. I have interwoven scripture into this monologue, it is from "The Message" by Eugene Peterson. Let's listen to the voice of Mary for a while.

I have kept a treasure box since I was a young girl
It in were treasures that I would take out, hold in my hands,
worry over, pray over and ponder deep and hard

I kept a treasure box since before I was betrothed to Joseph.
While I was a young girl, I put in it small bits and pieces,
A Shell I picked up in the middle of a desert
A feather from one of the doves my parents sacrificed at Temple
A rock I picked up on the road to Jerusalem at Passover the year I became of age

But the real treasure is here. I keep my treasures in my heart. Locked up tight – I take them out and look at them and think – I take them out and hold them in my hands and pray that their rough edges don’t cut too hard, too deep.

My mother named me Mary – people say that it means “bitterness” but an old rabbi once told me that my name came out of Egypt, from the sister of Moses and that it means “beloved,” like David means. And I have been beloved.

I was a very young girl when my father betrothed me to a much older man. There is a deep sadness among the people of my time. A sadness we don’t often speak aloud. Wives often did not live through the birth of their children. Sometimes a man would have 2 or 3 or 4 wives before he built a family. Our world was a harsh one, a hard life under an oppressive empire. What did the Romans know from us Jews? Hmmm? Men sometimes didn’t live long either. There was always the threat of rebellion or war. Or they wore themselves out building Romans cities.

I was just a young girl when my father betrothed me to Joseph. I knew him, well really I knew of him. He was the town’s carpenter – a different sort of builder than you think of as a carpenter – he build with both stone and wood – a tecton we would say in the Greek. A skilled man, a righteous man, an upstanding member of our community. I had seen him around the village – he was strong and old and I was to marry him. We talked a few times. It wasn’t going to be too bad.

And then I had a visit – from an angel of God. His name was Gabriel and he said:,
“Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
I was shaken up, wondering what was behind a greeting like that. But the angel assured me, "Mary, you have nothing to fear. God has a surprise for you: You will become pregnant and give birth to a son and call his name Jesus.

He will be great,
be called "Son of the Highest.'
The Lord God will give him
the throne of his father David;
He will rule Jacob's house forever--
no end, ever, to his kingdom."

Maybe they should have called me Sarah, because I felt like laughing.

"But how? I've never known a man."
The angel answered me ,
"The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
the power of the Highest hover over you;
Therefore, the child you bring to birth
will be called Holy, Son of God."

Me! To have a child!

Then the angel said "And did you know that your cousin Elizabeth conceived a son, old as she is? Everyone called her barren, and here she is six months' pregnant! Nothing, you see, is impossible with God."

What was I to say?
"Yes, I see it all now:
I'm the Lord's maid, ready to serve.
Let it be with me
just as you say."

Then the angel left.

I didn't waste a minute. I got up and traveled to a town in Judah in the hill country, straight to Zachariah's house, and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard me say Hello, the baby in her womb leaped. She was filled with the Holy Spirit, and sang out to me.

And I thought of Miriam and her song and I sang: “My Soul Magnifies the Lord”

I stayed with Elizabeth for three months and then went back to my own home. Two unexpectedly pregnant women – one too young and not yet married, and one old old married woman with a mute husband – well, God works in mysterious ways.

And I wasn’t the only one to be visited by an angel. Joseph was visited by one as well, so that he would take me as his wife. We traveled to Bethlehem that year, and Jesus was born there. I know that you know that story. Angels, a star, shepherds, wise men. What you may not know is that I kept all these things to myself, holding them dear, deep within myself. Deep inside the treasure box of my heart.

When he was 8 days old, we went to Jerusalem and to the Temple to offer a sacrifice. There was an old man there, Simeon by name, a good man, a man who lived in the prayerful expectancy of help for Israel. And the Holy Spirit was on him. As we brought Jesus to him to carry out the rituals of the Law, Simeon took Jesus into his arms and blessed God:

"God, you can now release your servant;
release me in peace as you promised.
With my own eyes I've seen your salvation;
it's now out in the open for everyone to see:
A God-revealing light to the non-Jewish nations,
and of glory for your people Israel."

Joseph and I were speechless at these words. Simeon went on to bless us, and said to me
"This child marks both the failure and
the recovery of many in Israel,
A figure misunderstood and contradicted—
the pain of a sword-thrust through you--
But the rejection will force honesty,
as God reveals who they really are."

And I put those words in my little treasure box. Simeon’s words haunt me. Failure and recovery – the pain of a sword-thrust -- not just the pain of Eve, but that of a sword thrust. Heavy heavy words for a mother to carry in her heart.

When we finished everything required by God in the Law, we eventually returned to Galilee and our own town, Nazareth. There my child grew strong in body and wise in spirit. And the grace of God was on him.

Oh, and he was strong in spirit.
Every year we traveled to Jerusalem for the Feast of Passover. When he was twelve years old, we went up as they always did for the Feast. When it was over and we left for home, we Jesus behind in Jerusalem, but we didn't know it. Thinking he was somewhere in the company of pilgrims, we journeyed for a whole day and then began looking for him among relatives and neighbors. When we didn't find him, we went all the way back to Jerusalem looking for him.

The next day we found him in the Temple seated among the teachers, listening to them and asking questions. The teachers were all quite taken with him, impressed with the sharpness of his answers. His father and I were not impressed; I would call it upset and hurt.

I said: "Young man, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been half out of our minds looking for you."

He said, "Why were you looking for me? Didn't you know that I had to be here, dealing with the things of my Father?" But we had no idea what he was talking about.

So he went back to Nazareth, and lived obediently with us. But I held these things dearly, deep within myself. And Jesus matured, growing up in both body and spirit, blessed by both God and people.

Things began to change for me – by the time Jesus was in his 30’s and had started his ministry, I was alone and stayed at home quite a bit. We still were invited to things around the village.

There was this time when there was a wedding in the village of Cana in Galilee. Jesus and I and his disciples were guests also. When they started running low on wine at the wedding banquet, I told him, "They're just about out of wine."

Jesus said, "Is that any of our business, Mother--yours or mine? This isn't my time. Don't push me."

Well, I went ahead anyway, telling the servants, "Whatever he tells you, do it."

He went ahead and turned the water into wine that afternoon – even though he scolded me it wasn’t his time. This act in Cana of Galilee was the first sign Jesus gave, the first glimpse of his glory.

It was the end of his time with me. I didn’t really enter into his life again until almost his last days. I went to Jerusalem with him – almost thirty three years after he was born. Thirty three long years of listening and remembering Simeon’s words. My nephew John was dead by then, beheaded by that evil man Herod.

That last week was a week of loud noises and conflict. He rode into Jerusalem like a king – he upset a large number of people with his teachings and the ruckus he made turning over tables Jerusalem during Passover is so tumultuous. The Romans are edgy, the Sanhedrin is nervous. And Jesus talked like he was going to die. And he did. All the things that I had stored in the treasure chest of my heart came back to me, as I stood there, next to the cross. I took each memory out and dwelled in them, holding them in my hands. Gathering my memories to myself. Ah, God! If only I could .... ! I cried, I screamed out until my throat was raw -- but to what avail?

I dwelt in my memories. I remembered Joseph, the surprise of an angel, two pregnant women, the trip to Bethlehem, the joy of shepherd contrasted with my quiet deliberations. How he claimed his heritage in that Temple in Jerusalem “Don’t you know I would be about my Father’s business.” I remember the water into wine – I remember the hurt when he looked me in the face and said “who is my mother, who are my brothers?”

I don’t know what I can say – you don’t really understand unless you have watched your own child die. It was a sword through my heart. Failure and recovery? Later I will join the other women in finishing – we didn’t really prepare the body when we had closed the tomb – the Sabbath was approaching. We will get someone to roll the stone away. And for the last time I will bathe his body and I will anoint it with spices and aloes. I took out two of the gold coins that I had saved from the Magi – Friday I put them on his eyes. I will take the frankincense and myrrh that I saved as well and smooth it on his limbs. You know, Friday, the day he died was also 33 years from the day that the angel visited me. I saw and experienced the beginning and the end. I so believed in him! He was my beloved son! I loved him so much! Why didn't God mark him with his love, instead of marking him to die?

I remember him reading from the Wisdom of Solomon – he thought the word were about Him – and maybe they were.

I also am mortal, like everyone else,
a descendant of the first-formed child of earth;

and in the womb of a mother I was molded into flesh,
within the period of ten months, compacted with blood,

And when I was born, I began to breathe the common air,
and fell upon the kindred earth;

my first sound was a cry, as is true of all.
I was nursed with care in swaddling cloths.

For no king has had a different beginning of existence;
there is for all one entrance into life, and one way out.

Therefore I prayed, and understanding was given me;
I called on God, and the spirit of wisdom came to me.

Wisdom of Solomon 7:1-10

Questions: Who is Mary to You?
What truths about Jesus do you hold in your heart? What do we ponder? What is necessary for “pondering?” Do we remember the special experiences we have had with God and Christ and the Holy Spirit? How often do we take them out and ponder on them?

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