15 August 2007

The Dormition of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God

Today the Church remembers with thanksgiving the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God. Historically, this day was understood to mark her dormition, or "falling asleep," which was most anciently regarded as her natural death and burial. From early on, however, the Church considered that she who conceived and gave birth to the very God of very God, by His Word and Holy Spirit, was also resurrected and ascended into heaven, in both body and soul, soon after her death. There is no word of Holy Scripture to teach these traditions as doctrine, but we should not be too quick to dismiss them as merely pious devotion. Such piety, at its heart, is a confession of that which is the Church's faith in Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary's Son, our Savior and our God.

St. Mary is uniquely honored among all the saints of God in Christ, not only by the Church, but first of all by the Lord God Himself. He has had mercy upon her, blessed her with His grace and favor, and chosen her above all other women to bear the almighty and eternal Son of God. She is rightly called, and truly is, the Mother of God; for her own dear Son, the Fruit of her womb, is indeed the one true God, begotten of the Father from all eternity. It is from her flesh and blood that the Lord has taken for Himself a true and natural body, bone of her bone and flesh of her flesh, so that henceforth He is true Man, the perfect second Adam, our elder Brother, our kinsman Redeemer, the promised Seed of the Woman, by whom we are reconciled to God. As the ancient fathers of the Church confessed, God thus became like us, in order that we become like Him, by grace. It is that great salvation that we celebrate in commemorating any of the saints, and in particular the Blessed Virgin Mother of God, St. Mary.

She is an icon of the Church, a living Sacrament of Christ, and a beautiful example of faith, of all the true children of father Abraham. Her body was comprehended by the Word and Spirit of God to become the tangible means by which the Son of God became flesh and was given to us, and not only for us, but for the life of the world. It is His body, conceived and born of St. Mary, that our sins and sorrows did carry. It is a human body, like our own in every way, save without sin, because He was born of this woman (born under the Law to redeem us). Thus do we recognize in her an archetype of the Blessed Sacrament of our Lord's body and blood.

What is more, in conceiving and giving birth to the Son of God, she is a type of the Church, the holy mother who surely gives birth to the sons of God in Christ. We too have been conceived and given new birth by the same Word and Spirit of the same Holy Triune God that overshadowed the Blessed Virgin Mary and knit within her womb the incarnation of the only-begotten Son. Thus are we, like Him, "born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God" (St. John 1:13).

Along with her vocation as the woman by whom the Son of God was given to and for the world, St. Mary also stands with us as a living member of the Church, the Body of Christ. When the Word of the Gospel was announced to her, she received that Word in faith, obtained in her by the mercies of God, and meekly bowed her head in humble trust: "Let it be to me according to Thy Word." Blessed is she who has heard the Word of God and kept it, who treasured it in her heart, who believed that there would surely be a fulfillment of all that God had spoken to her. In all of this, St. Mary is one of us, a faithful disciple of her own dear Son, and among that great cloud of witnesses with which we are surrounded, of that blest communion, fellowship divine.

When the Church in pious tradition has considered St. Mary to be resurrected and ascended to heaven, already in both body and soul, it is a confession of faith in that which Christ Jesus our Lord has accomplished for us and for all by His victorious Cross, Resurrection and Ascension. We may indeed contemplate that she by whom the Lord became like us, should exemplify the way in which we all become like Him, recreated in the glorious Image of the Man from heaven. Of course, we do not rest faith upon the tradition of St. Mary's dormition and assumption into heaven; faith clings to Jesus Christ alone and finds true peace and Sabbath rest forever in Him. But what we envision concering St. Mary, we understand to be the Church's hope precisely in Christ our Lord, our Savior and our God. For we know that He is the Resurrection and the Life, and that she who believes in Him will live even if she dies; yes, and everyone who lives and believes in Him will never die.

We believe, teach and confess with the absolute certainty of faith that St. Mary is the Mother of God; that the almighty and eternal Son of the living God was born of this woman, born under the Law, to redeem us who were under the Law. In celebrating that marvelous incarnation of God the Son, in which He died and rose again for us men and our salvation, we may also celebrate proleptically the resurrection of the body that all His saints share with Him by grace through faith in the Gospel. And in that glorious light, we sing: "O higher than the cherubim, more glorious than the seraphim, lead their praises: 'Alleluia!' Thou bearer of the eternal Word, most gracious magnify the Lord: 'Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!" (LSB 670)


Chris Jones said...

Pr Stuckwisch,

This is a wonderful homily. Thank you for posting it.

Moria said...

Great! I'd borrow it for tonight, but half the congregation has probably already read it :).

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Thanks. You and Emmaus have been in my thoughts and prayers as you celebrate this Feast. Christ be praised for the faithful preaching and hearing, administration and reception of His Gospel.