, , , , , , , ,

Today is the day that the Christian Church sets aside to commemorate the Virgin Mary. This day has different names and different emphases depending on which communion you belong to. For Roman Catholics, it’s the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. For the Eastern Orthodox and some Lutherans it’s the Dormition of St. Mary, the Mother of God — although those churches do not mean the same thing when they talk about her dormition. Dormition is a fancy word for falling asleep, so that would be a reference to her death. The Eastern Orthodox believe that the Virgin Mary died, but then she was resurrected on the third day and taken to heaven body and soul, where she is now. (Hmm, third day…have I heard this before? Striking how the factual history of Christ’s resurrection is copied in a legend about Mary, isn’t it? There is absolutely zero Scriptural support for this.) The Roman church, depending on who you talk to or read, believes the same thing as the Eastern Orthodox, or that Mary was taken to heaven without dying — almost like the prophet Elijah, or Enoch. (Again, zero Scriptural support for this.) Anglicans, Episcopalians, and others within the visible Christian church also mark this day to honor what God did through Mary (and hopefully not to worship her or give her excessive honor, although unfortunately that does happen.)

The Lutheran view, which is most consistent with Scripture, is that the Virgin Mary died a normal death, and then her soul was received into heaven by her Son — as is true of everyone who trusts in Jesus for forgiveness of sins. That’s simplest and adds the least to Scripture. She was a sinner too, as evinced by the words of her song, the Magnificat — “my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” She needed a Savior too, and she is saved by faith in her Son. There is only one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; no back way in, no side doors through His mother or anyone else. Thus those who appeal to Mary for help or forgiveness are wrongheaded at best, and diabolically deceived at worst.

At the same time, we do need to give Mary her due. We should honor her for what she should be honored for, namely, that she got to be the “Bearer of God”, or Theotokos as it goes in Greek. Nobody else has ever had the privilege of carrying God in her womb, and no one ever will. Christ’s conception by the Holy Spirit was a miracle unprecedented in history, and one that will never be repeated again. When the Virgin Mary felt the Baby kicking in her womb, she felt God moving. The infinite God, whom the highest heavens cannot contain, chose to be contained in the Virgin’s womb. Ponder that for a while, and you see what a special thing and what a miracle Christ’s incarnation was. It’s one of the central miracles of the Christian faith. That miracle was a result of God’s undeserved love and grace for the human race. That same grace, God’s wholly undeserved love, also chose Mary to be the mother of His Son. He got His human body from her. He truly was a man, a human being, just as we are; if He is not born of a virgin, then He’s not true man either and He’s not your Savior.

That’s why it’s a fine line to walk when we discuss the Virgin Mary. We dare not honor her beyond what she should honored for, namely that God allowed her to carry His Son in her womb and raise Him, but at the same time it’s an exceedingly poor idea to denigrate Mary or to seek to push her out of the salvation story and into the background, because then the way is clear to attack Jesus’ ability to be the Savior of the world — and no pious Christian wants to do that. Abuses of excessive honor or worship to Mary, many of them of longstanding antiquity, have made many wary of Mary, even to the point that they flinch when her name is mentioned, but the fact remains: God’s Son was born of the Virgin; this was prophesied; it helps form one of the cornerstones of our salvation. Let’s at least be fair enough to Mary to marvel with her at what God did through her, even while we don’t worship her or pray to her.

If you’re interested in some Scriptures for this day, Luke 1:46-55 (the Magnificat) and Isaiah 61:7-11 are the Gospel and Epistle for the day, respectively. The following Psalms are also appointed: 45, 72, 85, 98, 110, 33, 76, 132, and 149. Even a cursory glance at those Psalms will show you unmistakably that this day is not so much about Mary as it is about Christ — the miracle of His incarnation, the wondrous work of salvation He came to do as both God and man, His grace, His eternal reign as King over all. That’s a point often made that many people brush off, but it’s still true: the Virgin Mary is important not for her own sake, but because of who Her Son is. Jesus, Mary’s Son, is the real attraction and focus, not Mary herself. If we remember that, we can profitably observe days like today — or not. We are free to or not to, but let us remember that Jesus is God’s Son and also Mary’s Son, both God and man. All our salvation hangs on Him.