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LET GOD LIFT YOU UP!
Mary’s earthly body has never been found. In the Third Century, Christians believed that because Mary was the Theotokos, that is “God Bearer” she would therefore be spared the death experience of ordinary mortals not so chosen. Instead, God raised her to heaven, just like God did Enoch and Elijah (according to the Bible). Hence, we have the feast of the Assumption most of the Western Church celebrates on August 15. (For Eastern Christians, it is the Dormition, or Falling Asleep of the Blessed Virgin).
As with many aspects of Christian belief, not everyone is of one mind, reflecting that God gave us the capacity to think and did not design us to parrot our beliefs based on the charisma of preachers, the decrees of popes, or inspired authors. For example, some Christians believe that the woman in Revelations 12:1, described as a woman clothed with the sun, standing on the moon with a crown of twelve stars is Our Lady in Heaven, having gotten there is some manner not explicitly stated, while others believe she personifies Jerusalem in the age to come.
Some Sixteenth-Century theologians questioned the value of celebrating the Assumption, claiming it was unscriptural, but what is very scriptural is the power of God to raise us up from our weakness, our pain, our depression, our poverty, and the oppression we so often feel often due to events beyond our individual control like our dismal economy which has thrown so many people out of work at the behest of market forces that demand enforcement of contracts (like home loans), human suffering notwithstanding.
But not all Christians focus their daily lives on the power of God to raise people up to better things. Some Christians focus on using their own efforts to make other people’s lives miserable to better themselves. They give in to the notions of “survival of the fittest” and “every person for himself or herself.” What is so weird is that some Christians, maybe some Episcopalians, work in a bank foreclosing on people’s homes. While they may engage in that kind of activity to make a living for themselves, they ignore an obvious disconnect between what Christians preach and believe and how they live. Surely there are ways to put food on one’s table that don’t inflict suffering on other people.
The relationship between Mary and Jesus stands for the proposition that values learned at home need not be empty platitudes. Like all children, Jesus learned his values on the lap of his Mother. Values come from wisdom. Wisdom has an eternal quality to us that stretches back to the beginning of creation, when God created wisdom itself, a wisdom destined to last for an eternity and manifest in Mary. Mary was the source of the wisdom of Jesus that permeated his ministry. She eloquently stated the wisdom reflected in her values in her song called The Magnificat in the first chapter of Luke. Among the lines are, “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly.”
Mary proved herself a very good parent because Jesus internalized her values very well as we read in the canonical Gospels numerous occasions where Jesus lifted up people from their distress, such as the paralytic to whom Jesus said, “Take up your bed, arise and walk,” the woman who touched his garment and was healed of her hemorrhages, the daughter of Jarius to whom he said, “Arise and walk,” and his calling Lazarus from the grave saying, “Lazarus, come out.” In these and many other situations, Jesus is raising someone up, and in doing so, making that person’s situation better than what it was before he got there. So too must be our task as Christians, to reach and raise up our neighbor, as many believe God did when the time had arrived for her departure. Who is our neighbor? Jesus answered that question in the parable of the Good Samaritan, where unmistakably, our neighbor is anyone needing our help. That parable exemplifies the values Jesus learned from his Mother, and the values we all should live.
But Mary’s values are not those of this country. We Americans are taught to raise ourselves up by our bootstraps to become independent of others, often at the expense of others. What is most important for most Americans are first, being independent of other people, or “getting my own way,” and second, self-interest, which usually translates into “getting as much money as possible under my control.” That is what drives decisions at businesses, families, and even churches. We’re hung up on getting what we want for ourselves without considering other people. Our concentration on raising ourselves up by our own individual efforts displaces any concern for the common good of all affected by the decisions we make. This country is not about community, but about individualism. This can be seen not only in the capitalistic, entrepreneurial economic system that characterizes this country, but in our religion. So many of our television evangelists preach about a personal relationship with Jesus ad nauseum, as if that is the be-all and end-all of Christianity. Perhaps that is why so many Christians, particularly in this country, are uncomfortable with Mary, as she represents the opposite of all that.
Being a Christian is about me-and-Jesus, but participation with Jesus as part of a community. Nowhere is that more true than in the Eucharist, where we gather as a community to celebrate Jesus dying and rising, not only two thousand years ago, but today among us. Mary brings community to the Church. With her as part of the picture, Christianity is no longer about just and individual relationship with Jesus. Jesus never stood alone during his earthly life. He was born into a family that at a minimum consisted of Himself, Mary and Joseph, and he went on to function in a community of twelve Apostles and at least 70 disciples. Mary his Mother was with him throughout his life – the canonical Gospels have her appearing at Cana and commanding the wine stewards to do as our Lord told them, and she was there at the foot of the Cross. In the Acts of the Apostles on the day of Pentecost, we find here there awaiting the gift of the Holy Spirit. It was the coming of that Spirit that gave birth to the Church– let us not forget Mary was there. Hence the specialness of Mary came not only from her role as Theotokos, the God-bearer, but Her life with Jesus after he was born. That specialness explains why God might want to spare her from an ordinary death and raise her up to heaven to be with God.
What you believe, or don’t believe in the Assumption of Mary is not important. What is important is Her impact on Jesus, and through Him, her impact on us. She gave birth to a Son that raised people up, and those people include all of us.