Yesterday, August 15, is a special day every year, honoring Mary, the mother of Jesus. It tells the story of her assumption. What does it mean? When Mary died, she was buried. But her body did not stay in the ground to waste away and become dust again. Jesus brought his mother’s body up into heaven. So now in heaven we have two glorious people, fully human: Jesus and Mary. So let me talk a little bit about Mary today. Often our idea of Mary is a statue; she is standing there quietly, at peace. Or we have a picture of Mary, a sweet picture; she is holding Jesus; she seems perfectly happy.
But if you think about it, Mary’s life was hard. She had a very difficult life. And Mary’s difficult life connects her with us very much. Someone who is now gloriously alive in heaven knows about our human life, knows our suffering, is with us right now because she experienced all that we experience now.
Let me give you some examples:
Mary was born in a little town called Nazareth. She had no education; girls did not go to school in those days. She probably could not read or write. She was very holy, yes; but she had a very quiet life. Then suddenly, when she is a teenager, 14 or 16 years of age, she is pregnant. Because an angel visited her! How do you explain that to somebody else? And then she has to tell Joseph, her future husband, she’s pregnant. How does Mary feel? What is she going to do? Maybe she feels alone, without support, afraid for the future, doesn’t really know why all this is happening to her, must wait, a time of great difficulty. Finally Joseph accepts her, and they are married.
Then the birth of the child: when the time is close for the child to come, Mary must travel to Bethlehem. She cannot find a place to stay that night. She is homeless; basically she has to live in a shelter, like people now who have to live in shelters because they have no homes. Mary’s child was born in a barn, a homeless shelter. And then, after the visit of the three kings, Mary must run because King Herod is afraid of the child, afraid the child will become the new king.
Mary has to run away to Egypt. She becomes a refugee, an immigrant in a strange country. She probably does not know the language, does not know the culture, has no friends, has a hard time finding a way to support herself and her new child. It is hard for her; she is a refugee, an immigrant. Maybe this helps us understand that Mary and her son Jesus care about refugees and immigrants.
Then after a few years she is able to come back home to Nazareth. It was a very small town. It had maybe 150 people, not a very fancy place at all. In Nazareth she is doing what all mothers do — washing, cooking, cleaning every day exactly the same thing, very boring, but she does it with love.
When Jesus is 12, she travels to Jerusalem with him and then loses her son. She has to worry about him for three whole days! Where is he? What happened to him? Is he okay? Think about that yourselves. If you lost your child, how would you feel? Think about your worry, your fear, your concern. Mary experienced all of that, knows what it’s like to be a parent, understands your life very well. Then Jesus comes back and lives with her for another 18 years.
During that time, Joseph dies; Mary becomes a widow. Think of the sadness of losing her husband, someone she loved and depended on very much. She knows what it’s like to experience all those events, all those sources of pain in her life.
Then Jesus begins his public life, travels around Israel. Sometimes Mary goes to be with him. She sees the crowds, but she also knows that the religious leaders are against Jesus her son. She knows that the Roman government was afraid of seeing crowds of people gathered around one person; they are afraid of revolutions. So Mary, like all mothers, worries about her son, worries about what will happen to him in the future.
Then we have those awful days in Jerusalem: On Palm Sunday Mary sees the crowds, honoring Jesus her son. But Mary also knows that the religious authorities are angry with him, really want to see him gone, killed. The Romans are afraid because they do not want a revolt happening. And then Mary is with Jesus at his Last Supper. Then Jesus leaves to pray in a quiet garden; Mary goes home to rest. Then perhaps the disciples come running back to tell her that the soldiers took Jesus. Mary knows what will happen. Her Son will be abused; he will be beaten, whipped. Then Mary is with the crowds outside, in front of Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor. Mary knows what is happening to Jesus, sees his pain, his suffering; she sees him carrying the cross, sees him crucified. You who are parents, what is it like when you see your child hurt? How do you feel when your child is sick? What happens to you? How do you feel? Mary knows exactly how you are feeling. She suffered as any loving parent suffers. Then, with a final cry of Jesus on the cross, he dies. The body is brought down and put in Mary’s arms. You have seen those pictures of the dead body of Jesus, resting in Mary’s arms. How did Mary feel? Her heart broke, looking at the body of her son abused, beaten, and now gone.
Imagine how you might feel, if your child died. How would you feel? Mary felt it. Mary has suffered with you, like you in so many ways.
Why think about Mary? She is someone glorious in heaven, but she knows what your human life is like. She was a mother, a parent like you. Therefore, we have a special friend in heaven who really understands everything about our human life. Because Mary is his mother, she has enormous influence on her son Jesus. Mary does not save us; Jesus saves us. But Mary is still a very strong influence in the life of her son. We can always ask Mary to ask Jesus to help us.
When we think about Mary, we must always know that Mary leads us to know her son. What can we learn from Mary about her son Jesus? First of all, Mary loves her son, tells us about Jesus, encourages us to love him, the way a mother loves her child; she is asking all of us to love Jesus in the same way.
Always we see pictures of Mary holding the child Jesus. The best pictures show Mary holding the child out to us, asking us to accept him, to love him, to see him as our Savior; he has come because he wants to be with you and with me, wants to love us. Mary gives Jesus to us.
And we have that powerful picture of Mary holding the dead body of Jesus, holding his body out to us. Mary says to us, “Look what Jesus suffered for you. You are special; you are so very special. Jesus suffered all of this for you.”
Mary teaches us to love Christ, the way a mother loves a child. I do not have a story for you today. But I want you to think about the story of Mary, her life, her suffering; she helps us know that we have a friend in heaven, a kind, loving friend in heaven, who will be with us, who cares for us and guides us, who will remind us especially of how much Jesus has always loved us. Her story is the story of love. She encourages us to have the same love for Jesus, her son.