25th March 2020
THE ANNUNCIATION OF THE LORD TO THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY
Pastoral Letter No. 4
Fr Andrew writes:
Today, 25th March, is the Feast of the ‘Annunciation of the Lord to the Blessed Virgin Mary’, sometimes known in England as ‘Lady Day’. Historically it was one of the Quarter Days, when rents were due and the new financial year began; that changed with the modification of the calendar and now our tax year begins on 6th April.
Now we’re at a time when the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made all sorts of announcements about ‘rent holidays’ and transferring tax payments, yet still there must be concerns, and prayers offered, for the self-employed, freelance workers and those on zero-hours contracts which constitutes many in our parish.
This great Christian festival recalls and celebrates the coming of the Archangel Gabriel to announce to Mary that God has called her to be the Mother of His Son (Luke 1.26-38). Mary of Nazareth will be the one to bear Christ in her womb and give birth to him so that he may be presented to the world, ‘for us [human beings] and our salvation’ (Nicene Creed). Little wonder ‘all generations will call [her] blessed’ (Luke 1.48).
The encounters between Mary and the archangel and Mary and her cousin Elizabeth give us the basis of the prayer ‘Hail Mary’, which recalls the angelic salutation, Gabriel’s greeting, and praises the fruit of Mary’s womb: Jesus.
The Annunciation, like the Nativity of the Lord at Christmas, is a great celebration of the Word made flesh: in other words, the very presence of God becomes human flesh. Christ has an earthly body with human hopes and aspirations, frustrations and temptations. Mary gives her humanity and ours to the great wonder and mystery of salvation in what we call the Incarnation, literally the ‘taking of flesh’.
The Annunciation comes nine months before Christmas; the period of gestation of the child in the womb. It is almost certain that the Annunciation was celebrated more widely by early Christians than Christmas so, properly speaking, Christmas comes nine months after the Annunciation!
Christmas is a long way off – and it is hard to contemplate nine months ahead at the moment, let alone three weeks. Christmas is another time when many people will be spending time with their families. It won’t be an enforced time, such as this Coronavirus emergency, but I trust that we will come through this crisis with a deeper appreciation of social proximity (the opposite of isolation) and will cherish the people around us more - family members, spouses, siblings, colleagues, brothers and sisters in Christ - even if they rub us up the wrong way. Human society needs that for life, not just for Christmas (or times of crisis).
The Annunciation happens in a domestic setting (notwithstanding some traditions that say it took place in the Temple) in Mary’s home town of Nazareth. Some imagine Mary to have been doing the housework for her family or sitting praying quietly or reading the psalms. Either way the archangel intrudes into the domestic scene, illustrating that we cannot bar God from our homes and more than that that God is Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us’.
This message of ‘Emmanuel - God with us’ is so pertinent at the moment. It’s a theme that I spoke a little bit about when reflecting on Psalm 46 which begins, ‘God is our refuge and strength’ which has almost as a refrain, ‘The Lords of Hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge’.
God makes his home with us. It does matter where our home is, or what our domestic arrangements are, for God has made his home with us: as the Prayer of Humble Access puts it, ‘that we may dwell in him and he in us’. We trust too that those who have nowhere to call their home, the homeless, will know the comfort and presence of God in their time of trouble, especially at the moment given how vulnerable they are. Please pray for them too.
Our church, Croydon Minster, speaks of God’s presence in our midst. Like all churches it presents in a rich symbolic language the meeting of heaven and earth, divinity and humanity: it is a sacrament of the presence of God – and don’t we just miss it at the moment? It’s our shared spiritual home! It’s not the same watching the Eucharist broadcast from my sitting room! (Although, if you do want to see that you can view it on the Minster Facebook page or from the very bottom of the Minster website home page).
I do hope you are keeping well and your spirits up. If you share your home with others I hope that you can appreciate one another and seek to be a community of love and friendship. If you are in your home alone, then I hope that you will find the companionship you want and need through the many ways we can keep connected today. Either way, know that Jesus Christ is the unseen, yet ever present guest in your home. May his presence, the Word Made Flesh, hallow our homes and lives, both now and ever. Amen.