Wednesday, 25 March 2020

The message of the Annunciation
drives away fear and death

‘The Annunciation’ by Adam Pomeroy in the Cathedral of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Ennis, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

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


The Readings: Isaiah 7: 10-14; Psalm 40: 5-10; Hebrews 10: 4-10; Luke 1: 26-38.

There is a link to the readings HERE

The Annunciation depicted on a panel in the altar piece in Saint Mary’s Church, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

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

Many people today, in our present crisis, would just love to hear that verse in our Gospel reading this morning, ‘The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God”’ (Luke 1: ).

Many people are afraid and wondering where they can hear the word of the Lord in midst of warning, panic and fear-laden directives.

But the Mary who is filled with fear at the Annunciation becomes a the strong Mary of the Magnificat, the Mary who can leave home in Nazareth to face an uncertain future first in Bethlehem and then in exile in Egypt, the widowed Mary who stands at the foot of the Cross when the disciples have fled in fear on Good Friday, the weeping but strong Mary of the Pieta, the Mary who later joins the disciples in their huddled fear in the Upper Room.

How did we ever come to portray as that demure Mary in pious poses in the plaster cast statues that decorate so many churches and wayside shrines?

Filled with fear, yes; but demure and passive, never.

Those images of the Mary of the Magnificat, Mary at the Cross, the strong Mary of the Pieta, all make the connection between the Annunciation and Good Friday and Easter morning.

The date of the feast of the Annunciation, 25 March, was actually chosen to match the supposed historical 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.

Saint Augustine of Hippo explained it this way:

He is believed to have been conceived on 25 March, upon which day also he suffered; so the womb of the Virgin, in which he was conceived … corresponds to the new grave in which he was buried …

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 ceiling of cathedrals, churches and chapels.

When Good Friday fell on 25 March in 1608, 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 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: 37-38).

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.

‘For nothing will be impossible with God … Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word’ (Luke 1: 37-38).

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, 2018)

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, 2018)

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 Annunciation depicted on the reredos in the chapel of Clare College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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.

The Lenten Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God,
you hate nothing that you have made
and forgive the sins of all those who are penitent:
Create and make in us new and contrite hearts
that we, worthily lamenting our sins
and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may receive from you, the God of all mercy,
perfect remission and forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

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 inset on a house in Castle Bellingham, Co Louth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Hymns:

133, Long ago, prophets knew
704, Mary sang a song, a song of love

A depiction of the Annunciation in the Rose Room in the Kairos Centre in west London … the venue for a recent residential meeting of USPG trustees (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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 Annunciation depicted on a panel on the triptych in the Lady Chapel in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford / Lichfield Gazette)

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