Mary and the Strength of Acceptance
Famously we take freedom for granted. Perhaps we are dimly conscious most of the time of the great freedoms, the freedom to vote perhaps, or the freedom to a fair trial; but things like the freedom to have a cup of coffee or a pint of beer and read the newspaper in a pleasant public place or the freedom to have a professional haircut (something beginning to be on my mind) which seem unimaginably non-negotiable, until suddenly we lose them. And greatest of all, cruelest of all, we have taken the freedom to see and hold those we love as something else that we cannot be deprived of, and now, brutally, we have been
I am one of those annoying people who moans constantly about the anticipation of Christmas. Never mind the shopping centres lighting up at the end of September, and the bombardment of advertising which begins after Halloween, I grit my teeth to sing Christmas carols before the end of Advent, and in the Rectory at Cleobury the tree goes up and is decorated on Christmas Eve!
There is one very important exception to this rigorism, and oddly enough it happens usually somewhere in the middle of Lent. On the 25th of March, usually known as the Annunciation, but beautifully in English traditionally as Lady Day, the church in her prayers and readings remembers the moment when the Angel Gabriel appeared to the very young woman Mary, and sought to beseech her to play her part in God’s plan. And plan it was, God could have chosen any woman from the time of Genesis onwards; but it was this one whom he brought centre stage, a daughter of the House of David, but one growing up in obscurity, in the back of beyond, in a bad time for her people.
Lady Day used to be important in the calendar, for a long time in England it was New Year’s Day, and some of you are aware of rents falling due on it, as one of the quarter-days. It has left its mark on our landscape too. Angel Bank going down the Clee Hill to Ludlow will take its name from an ancient pub called the Salutation which existed there by the roadside at some point.
Lady Day is important in our calendar of quarantine, our lockdown liturgy of days. It represents a moment of freedom in deeply constrained circumstances. The Bible account finds Mary in a tight corner, a difficult and dangerous position. There is no guarantee that Joseph will accept and protect her, pregnancy and childbirth were difficult enough in those days without adding in a frightening journey and the company of strangers. God gives Mary the freedom to say ‘No’, but she says ‘Yes’ and the future is assured.
We might feel that right now we have little freedom of action, and in most ways we are right. The coffee and the newspaper and the haircut and the long blessed hug have gone, for a while. The near future looks grim, although not as grim for most of us as for those in poverty in India and in the refugee camps. We need to pray for them and help those who help them as best we can.
But we have Mary’s freedom, the freedom of the present moment. We have taken so much for granted up until now, and now is the time to deeply treasure the freedoms that we still retain, the freedom to look at the buds on the trees, the warming countryside, the silver Easter moon waxing in the starlit skies. The conversations over different media. We have the freedom to say ‘yes’ to life and to the giver of life in each moment of our existence, aware of the past, but seeking – for it still Lent - to be cured of its failures, and because this is allowed too, just a little bit , to look towards Christmas future.
God bless you my dear brothers and sisters, and stay very safe.
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