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St Matthews Church Oxhey Hertfordshire

Fr David's sermon

15th August 2004

Fr David Shepherd

Trinity 10 - Feast of The Blessed Virgin Mary

Those of our number abroad on holiday today may well find the town where they are staying 'en fete' for the Feast of the Assumption, the celebration of the Catholic doctrine that after her death Mary was assumed bodily into heaven. In most European countries the Assumption is a public holiday and given the secular nature of Western society little more than an excuse for a party for many. To our sober Anglican mind the Assumption is problematic; a 'big assumption' as on wag put it. We could consider the theological assumptions behind the doctrine as well as the social and historical factors behind the revival of the Cult of Mary in late C19th and early C20th Roman Catholicism. Bur being Anglicans we play safe and keep today as the Fest of the Blessed Virgin without particular doctrinal insistence.

We also express our Marian theology unofficially in song. We sing of Mary. As well as being an Archdeacon of Hackney the late George Timms also wrote hymns, one of which we will sing today, 'Sing we of the blessed mother.' It is a meditation on four episodes from Mary's life, a kind of abridged Rosary. As in all icons depicting Mary our attention is directed to her Son Jesus. We are also led to respond in faith to the Gospel message.

  1. The first verse concerns the Annunciation & the Birth of Jesus. We are reminded of Mary's profound obedience to the Word of God of her 'yes' to the angel's message that she would be the mother of Jesus, despite all the uncertainty and costliness involved. In the Rosary these are the joyful mysteries. Just as Mary joyfully fed her infant Son, so we in joy receive food for eternal life in the Eucharist. As we sing we are reminded of Mary's great song of faith, the Magnificat. We have just sung Timothy Dudley Smith's (another contemporary Anglican hymn writer), version of it 'Tell out my Soul'. With its roots in Hannah's song in the OT, the Magnificat springs from Mary's humility and poverty, praising God who turns the world upside down.
  2. In the second verse our prayers are directed to the foot of the cross via Simeon's prophecy of the piercing sword at the Presentation of Our Lord in the temple. Mary remained prayerfully present with her Son when others had fled. Being with others, helpless in the face of suffering is very difficult. Our instinct is often to run. In being there Mary glimpsed the redemption that comes from Christ's death on the Cross. She saw the way through.
  3. From sorrow we pass with Mary to the joy of the Resurrection and the Coming of the Spirit at Pentecost. According to the ancient tradition of the Church, Mary was a witness of the Resurrection along with the apostles, the Salve Regina. In Acts she is recorded as being present at the first Pentecost.
  4. There is a progression through the hymn from the earthly and finite with its suffering and uncertainty to the heavenly and eternal, ending with the traditional picture of the Assumption. Although not scriptural we can see a picture of Mary entering into the eternal life that is her Son's gift to all his people. As the Salvationist's say she was 'promoted to glory'.

Thus in an Anglican way we are drawn to reflect on the person of Mary as we sing. The hymns we sing are rooted in the scriptures and in the tradition of the Church. Most of us will be more comfortable with this approach than with the papal proclamation of the Assumption as a dogma to be believed by all Christians.

It is well known that music affects us at a far deeper level than the spoken word. Good music, good hymnody can take us beyond the rational to God who is both knowable and yet unknowable. In singing of Mary, the blessed Mother we pray that with her we may be drawn more closely into the joyful and sorrowful mysteries of God. We pray that like her we may come to know him more fully through his Son Jesus Christ Our Lord.


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Last updated 18/08/04 09:00 Author: David Shepherd