A sermon preached at Croydon Minster on Sunday 8th September as we honoured the Blessed Virgin Mary during this time of prayer for the creation, our Common Home.
We honour the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of the Lord, the woman who proclaims the Magnificat, and inspires us to do the same: as we honour Mary today may our souls magnify and praise the Lord too!
Mary is the most wonderful example of a human being saying ‘yes’ to God’s purposes, of loving fidelity to Christ, of bringing Christ to birth in the world and of deep, attentive pondering and prayer.
Acknowledging Mary’s place in the life and devotion of the Church more clearly focuses us on Christ.
Mary the dawn, Christ the Perfect Day;
Mary the gate, Christ the Heavenly Way!
Mary the root, Christ the Mystic Vine;
Mary the grape, Christ the Sacred Wine!
Mary the wheat, Christ the Living Bread;
Mary the rose tree, Christ the Rose blood-red!
Mary the font, Christ the Cleansing Flood;
Mary the cup, Christ the Saving Blood!
Mary the temple, Christ the temple’s Lord;
Mary the shrine, Christ the God adored!
Mary the beacon, Christ the Haven’s Rest;
Mary the mirror, Christ the Vision Blest!
Mary the mother, Christ the mother’s Son
By all things blest while endless ages run. Amen.
This woman’s faith-filled ‘yes’ opens the door to God’s grace in her life, and ours, and enables us to say in the Creed, ‘for us and for salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and was made man’.
Jesus Christ, present at the creation of the cosmos, becomes born of one of God’s creatures so that we might be raised up to share in the divine life of the Creator.
Jesus Christ connects us to the Creator, to Mary and the creation.
Pope Francis writing on the World Day of Care for Creation last week said:
“And God saw that it was good” (Gen 1:25). God’s gaze, at the beginning of the Bible, rests lovingly on his creation. From habitable land to life-giving waters, from fruit-bearing trees to animals that share our common home, everything is dear in the eyes of God, who offers creation to men and women as a precious gift to be preserved.
Tragically, the human response to this gift has been marked by sin, selfishness and a greedy desire to possess and exploit. Egoism and self-interest have turned creation, a place of encounter and sharing, into an arena of competition and conflict.
The goodness of the creation and our response to it is at the heart of the contrast between Mary and Eve, Adam and Christ (the New Adam, as St Paul calls him).
This is not a misogynistic or gendered approach, claiming that a woman caused the fall - there is a man equally complicit in it – but an image of human response, male and female.
Eve’s name literally means, ‘Mother of all the Living’ (Genesis 3.20): we are, as C.S.Lewis put it, ‘children of Eve’, creatures made in the image and likeness of God. God’s gaze rested lovingly on Eve and Adam, and still does on us. And we have also chosen not simply to mar the image of God within us but to mar the creation too.
That is where Mary’s ‘yes’ to God and our identification with Jesus Christ says that we want to be renewed in God’s image and to restore, preserve and know the creation and environment as ‘a place of encounter and sharing, not competition and conflict’.
This is where we can turn to the reading this morning from the Revelation to John the Divine.
The Book of Revelation describes or, to put it better, reveals, the turbulence that precedes the inauguration of the coming Kingdom of God, what is known as the End Times, or eschaton, from which we get the word eschatology.
It is full of confusing images and signs: beasts; monsters with countless eyes; slaughtered Lambs; the birth pangs of a woman clothed with the sun appearing in the heavens. It conjures up images that resonate with our times: fires in the Amazon; melting ice flooding low lying countries; of plague, blight and famine caused by a human disrupted climate. It speaks of the creation in turmoil and disruption.
Revelation is not meant to be a comfortable read. Born out of the close reality of martyrdom, and intensity of prayer, it vividly and mystically portrays the dramatic choices to be made: to be children of light or darkness; those who are ready either to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to God. It speaks of the image of God erased from the face of human beings by guilt, shame and sin.
How depressingly recognisable; how depressingly real! Where is hope, life, good news in all of that?
Well, in Christian theology Creation is not a one off, past event. In Genesis God rested on the seventh day in order to continue his creative and passionate love for all that he saw, which was ‘very good’.
That’s why our Christian ancestors spoke of the eighth day of creation, when all is made new in Christ. As the opening of St John’s gospel asserts:
[Christ, the Word] was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and that life was the light of all people’ (John 1.3-4)
God’s creative action of restoration continues. St Paul puts it like this, ‘if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!’ (2 Corinthians 5.17)
At the heart of the Revelation to John is a vision of the New Jerusalem, which is an image of the New Creation that Christ comes to bring, that we anticipate in our worship and yearn for as we pray, ‘thy kingdom come’.
Revelation mirrors the birthing of the Creation. The New Creation is the first creation transformed, renewed, fulfilled.
Humanity’s ‘no’ to God is transformed by Mary’s ‘yes’ to life in Christ, God-with-us.
To be a new creation, to live in a New Creation, first demands a ‘yes’ - a declaration of intent - and then action with life, priorities and habits re-directed towards God, the creation and our neighbour.
As we pray for and act in the creation that is increasingly damaged and disrupted by human activity and sin, let us pray that we will embrace Mary’s ‘yes’ to God, allowing ourselves to see God’s image not erased from our lives but renewed, so that like the woman clothed in the sun we may bring Christ to birth in the world today.