Thursday, 25 March 2021

‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord;
let it be with me according to your word’

The Annunciation depicted in the Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in Gibraltar (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Thursday 25 March 2021

The Feast of the Annunciation of Our Lord to the Blessed Virgin Mary

10 a.m.: The Eucharist

The Readings: Isaiah 7: 10-14; Psalm 40: 5-10; Luke 1: 26-38.

There is a link to the readings HERE

The Annunciation in a double fresco in the Church of the Panaghia Dexia in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Today’s Feast of the Annunciation is one of the 12 Great Feasts of the Church. It is so important in Orthodox theology that the only time the Divine Liturgy may be celebrated on Good Friday, or ‘Great and Holy Friday,’ is if it falls on 25 March.

A fresco of the Annunciation I know of in a church in Thessaloniki provides a sharp contrast to the plaster-cast statue images of the Virgin Mary we often see in churches and roadside shrines in Ireland: her demure robes of white and blue hardly portray the strong Mary in the canticle Magnificat, the strong Mary who stands by the Cross when most of the disciples have run away, the strong Mary of the Pieta.

We are just a week away from Good Friday.

The canticle Magnificat, the Mary who stands by the Cross, the strong Mary of the Pieta, all make the connection between the Annunciation and Good Friday and Easter morning.

Today’s date, 25 March, was actually chosen for the feast of the Annunciation, to match the supposed date of the Crucifixion. This was to underline the idea that Christ came into the world on the same day that he left it: his life formed a perfect circle. In other words, 25 March was both the first day and the last day of his earthly life, the beginning and the completion of his work on earth.

Both events were understood to have happened in the spring, when life returns to the earth, and at the vernal equinox, once the days begin to grow longer than the nights and light triumphs over the power of darkness. Readers of JRR Tolkien and the Lord of the Rings cycle know that the final destruction of the Ring takes place on 25 March, to align Tolkien’s own ‘eucatastrophe’ with this most powerful of dates.

The early historian, the Venerable Bede, says this dating is symbolic but it is not only a symbol: it reveals the deep relationship between Christ’s death and all the created world, including the sun, the moon and everything on earth.

The Annunciation and the Crucifixion are often paired together in mediaeval art. This pairing inspired the development of a distinctive and beautiful image found almost uniquely in English mediaeval art: the lily crucifix – on painted screens, stained glass windows, carvings on stone tombs, misericords, wall-paintings and the painted ceilings of cathedrals, churches and chapels.

The link between the Annunciation and the Crucifixion brings together in one circle the beginning and the end of Mary’s motherhood, its joy and its sorrow, as well as completing the circle of Christ’s life on earth.

When Good Friday fell on 25 March 1608, the priest-poet John Donne marked this conjunction of ‘feast and fast,’ falling ‘some times and seldom,’ with a well-known poem in which he draws on the same parallels found in those mediaeval texts and images.

In Michelangelo’s great sculpture of the Pieta, the weeping Mary is bearing on her lap the body of the Crucified Christ who has been taken down from the Cross.

In that moment of searing sorrow, she must have wondered: Is this what it was all for, is this the end? Without the benefit of foresight, she could not have known the Easter story.

In her womb, she has carried the Christ Child. Now she cradles the Crucified Christ on her lap. The lap on which he had once played is now the lap on which his limp and lifeless body lies dead.

Was this the journey – from the Annunciation to the Crucifixion?

Images of the Pieta might remind us that the Virgin Mary was a mother who knew the fears and lost hopes of so many women: the women who see the death of their own children; the women who hope to be mothers and grandmothers, but never are; the women who see, experience and feel violence and violation at first-hand in their own lives; the women whose own grief is hijacked by others for their own agendas.

But the Virgin Mary’s ‘Yes’ was to all this: ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word’ (Luke 1: 38).

The Virgin Mary’s ‘Yes’ at the Annunciation is her yes, is our yes, is the ‘Yes’ of humanity and of creation, not only to the Incarnation, but to the Crucifixion on Good Friday, and to the Resurrection on Easter Day, and all the hope for the future that Easter brings.

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

The icon of Archangel Gabriel in the pair of icons in the Lichfield Annunciation in Lichfield Cathedral is based on the Lichfield Angel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 1: 26-38 (NRSVA):

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’ 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 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. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ 34 Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ 35 The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.’ 38 Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.

The Virgin Mary in the pair of icons in the Lichfield Annunciation … she is depicted seated on an elevated throne weaving a cloth that would become the veil of the Holy of the Holies in the Temple (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Colour: White

Penitential Kyries:

Lord God, mighty God,
you are the creator of the world.
Lord have mercy.
Lord have mercy.

Lord Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary,
you are the Prince of Peace.
Christ have mercy.
Christ have mercy.

Holy Spirit,
by your power the Word was made flesh
and came to dwell among us.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect of the Day:

Pour your grace into our hearts, Lord,
that as we have known the incarnation of your Son Jesus Christ
by the message of an angel,
so by his cross and passion
we may be brought to the glory of his resurrection;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Introduction to the Peace:

Unto us a child is born, unto us is given:
and his name is called the Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9: 7)

Preface:

You chose the Blessed Virgin Mary
to be the mother of your Son
and so exalted humble and meek;
your angel hailed her as most highly favoured,
and with all generations we call her blessed.

The Post Communion Prayer:

God Most High,
whose handmaid bore the Word made flesh:
We thank you that in this sacrament of our redemption
you visit us with your Holy Spirit
and overshadow us by your power.
May we like Mary be joyful in our obedience,
and so bring forth the fruits of holiness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Blessing:

Christ the Son of God, born of Mary,
fill you with his grace
to trust his promises and obey his will:

The Annunciation depicted on a panel in the altar piece in Saint Mary’s Church, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Hymns:

133, Long ago, prophets knew (CD 8)
704, Mary sang a song, a song of love (CD 40)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

The hymn suggestions are provided in Sing to the Word (2000), edited by Bishop Edward Darling. The hymn numbers refer to the Church of Ireland’s Church Hymnal (5th edition, Oxford: OUP, 2000).



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