Psalm 34; Isaiah 61:10-11; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 1:46-55
ST MARY the VIRGIN (transferred from Sunday Aug 15)
One of my earliest, maybe the earliest, memory of ‘public life’ (as opposed to the domestic whirl of play and family and pets and school and church) was the fall of Saigon. My mom would drop me off at my grandparents’ house early while she went to work, and they’d take me to school after breakfast, which was always a 50-50 blend of oatmeal and brown sugar and two slices of bacon crisped right to the edge of charcoal. My grandfather and I would watch the morning news on his black-and-white tv, which otherwise was on only for Bonanza and Cardinals games. The news was a blur of maps with provinces fallen overnight and press secretaries trying to explain things away and helicopters hurling themselves off the embassy, the people jumping to catch their landing gear in the desperate hope to get away while there was time. The sense of inevitability and frustration at the waste of so many lives–for what, precisely?–was heavy in the room, a room where we were all proud of the WWII and Korea service of almost every male member of the family. Why do I feel, this morning, like I’m back on Spiller Avenue in Lebanon, in that red cedar-shingled house, with the smell of bacon and coffee and exhaustion and inevitability hanging in the air? Perhaps I need to turn off the news…
The life of the Blessed Virgin, whom we honor today, is one which must have been marked more by sorrows than smiles. Remember that she could have been stoned, or at least shunted off into despised obscurity, for being pregnant–all Joseph had to do was say ‘not mine’ for her act of faith to turn out painfully. Remember that the prophets in the Temple smile at the Baby in her arms and say that ‘a sword will pierce your own soul also.’ Remember that she starts her motherhood by being a refugee from the soldiers hunting her in the dark. Remember that Joseph disappears from the text after Jesus’ 12th birthday–most scholars assume because she’s widowed. That her neighbors think her Son is insane. That she gets to stand at the foot of the cross and watch Him of Whom she can say “this is my body, given for you,” slowly choke to death in the hot sun of a Palestinian spring. There was a lot of frustration and inevitability, no doubt, just no bacon and coffee to fortify her.
And like any devout Jew, she would have taken comfort in the oft-repetition of the Psalms. Like today’s appointed Psalm, 34. ‘Many are the troubles of the righteous, but the Lord will deliver him out of them all.’ Many are our troubles, friends. Anyone watching the news this morning, if they’re my age or older, must feel a sense of having hit the repeat button on the history machine, and not for one of the happy episodes like the American Revolution or the Emancipation Proclamation. But one of the things that makes the Blessed Virgin more than just your ordinary run-of-the-mill saints is that she walked with constant dogged faith through the ordinary run-of-the-mill frustrations and despairs and sorrows that inevitably come to both the righteous and the unrighteous, as God sends His rain on both. One of the reasons she, and we, can walk through this life graciously is because, if we let it be, the book of Psalms can guide us through all the emotions and triumphs and letdowns of ordinary, frustrating, possibly inevitable run-of-the-mill daily reality. It’s more fortifying even than coffee and bacon, if such things can be said out loud.
Many are the troubles of the righteous, but the Lord will deliver him out of the all. Let us make that our prayer this deja vu depressing day.