Mary, Mother of Our Lord
August 17, 2019
Mothers of God
Relationships with mothers can be complicated. Though it is a simple, verifiable fact that each and every one of us was birthed into this world by another human being, our relationships with those human beings are anything but simple. And, if you have a mother-in-law in your life, your relationship with mothers is likely to be even more complicated.
When my husband Steve and I met back in 2001 he had just come out to his mother Cheryl, and she was only beginning to become somewhat comfortable with the fact that he wanted to date men instead of women, when he told her that he was planning to marry a man, me.
Same-gender marriage wasn’t legal back then, and Cheryl wasn’t yet completely comfortable with the idea, so after Steve and I had our “commitment ceremony” she started calling me, not her son-in-law, but rather, her “spare son.” So I, in turn, started to call her my “spare mom.” I was glad to have a “spare mom” who loved me, a mom nearer to where I was living at the time, especially when my own mother wasn’t able to be present to me in many ways due to health issues and prescription drug addiction. My spare mom and I loved each other, and we even signed birthday and holiday cards with the phrases “your spare mom” and “your spare son.”
A few years later, though, my own mother died just after my 21st birthday. And so Cheryl became my “not so spare mom.” As you might imagine, it was particularly difficult when, after a lengthy period of illness, Cheryl died in 2016 and I lost the last mother I had to lose.
Just the other day, on the actual date of the commemoration of Mary, Mother of Our Lord, August 15, a photo came up in my Facebook memories from 2014. Steve and I had driven down to Hammond, Indiana to visit Cheryl and she was teaching Steve how to make her famous fried chicken. As is often the case on August 15, everything with me was all Mary, all the time. And so, while salivating over the smells of frying chicken, I noticed anew on the table next to Cheryl’s bedroom door a statue of Mary, surrounded by her collection of shot glasses and Star Trek memorabilia, things all symbolic of her motherhood, her love for her son and spare son, the things she loved, and, even of her complicated relationship to alcohol and, thus, to her loved ones. After Cheryl died, we brought that statue of Mary home with us and my love of Mary deepened as I began to attune to her motherly love of me in the midst of my grief and loss.
Our relationships to our mothers are often complicated. And if there’s one Mother with whom Lutherans tend to have a complicated relationship, it is Mary, Mother of Our Lord. I mean, there’s all that baggage of what kind of relationship various kinds of Christians say we ought to have with our Mother Mary. And there are titles to go with them. Mary, Star of the Sea, Seat of Wisdom, Mystical Rose, and on, and on. And, on top of all of those exalted titles, there are the Queen titles for Mary: Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, Queen of Angels, Queen of All Saints, Queen of Heaven. Complicated. And yet, at the risk of making things more complicated, I’m going to suggest yet another Queen title for Mary: Mary, the YES QUEEN.
Speaking of complicated, Mary’s birth experience is complicated.
I mean, no matter what we think about the virginity of Mary, the process leading up to her pregnancy didn’t exactly begin in a customary way…I mean, when was the last time someone told you “I don’t know how it happened…an angel announced a message to me, and now I have this baby.” Complicated.
The Angel Gabriel, as angels in Scripture are wont to do, doesn’t ask Mary any questions…Gabriel tells her like it is. Mary is full of grace, God is with her, and she will conceive in her womb and bear a son, Jesus. A clear message. But complicated. Yet notice, Mary doesn’t just accept Gabriel’s message. Mary has questions. “How can this be, when I am a virgin? “God wants to work great things in you, Mary,” Gabriel says, “and no matter how complicated this may seem, nothing is impossible with God.”
“I am God’s servant, let it be with me as you say.” “Tell God I say yes.”
Mary’s “yes” to the new work God wants to do through her – to the new creation God would birth with her cooperation – Mary’s consent to this wondrous birth, this wondrous child –– is often lost in artwork and hymns that depict Mary as so lowly, self-deprecating, and void of desire and agency – that she almost seems something other than human. But Mary was a wondrous, complex, and complicated human being just like you and me.
Mary, often called Theotokos – God-bearer, or Mother of God – birthed Jesus, yes, yet even more so, her yes to God was but the beginning of the birth pangs of God’s new creation. In Mary’s womb was, as the old Latin hymn puts it, “heaven and earth in little space. “
I wonder, what wondrous births might be waiting to come to be through us if we, like Mary, are both humble and courageous enough to say yes to what God wants to do in our lives.
Mary’s jubilant song gives us some suggestions.
Perhaps God wants to birth through us a world in which the poor and lowly are lifted up, a world in which the voices of the powerful and mighty decrease so that the voices of those cast aside and made powerless might increase.
Maybe God desires to birth through us a world in which all have sufficient food and clean water…a world in which no one need fear being gunned down at home, at the grocery store or at school.
How might God’s new creation be yearning to be born in us, in you and in me?
The 13th century mystic Meister Eckhart said that “we are all meant to be mothers of God, for God is always needing to be born.”
Indeed we live in a world desperate for God to be born anew. Will we echo Mary’s yes and become mothers of God’s new creation? The good news is that we don’t have to do this work of birthing God’s new creation alone. No, it is God who will do the work through us. And we will do the work together.
This very evening God’s word will take flesh in us as we gather around this table and partake of the holy meal of thanksgiving. And nourished by God’s very body, we will be sent forth to be mothers of God in the world.
Glory to God, whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. Glory to God from generation to generation in the church, and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever.