Sunday of the Dormition – 15th August 2021
Poetry helps us to understand the Christian Faith. Let me use a short Hymn about Mary which, in sixteen lines, tells us what it would take many pages of prose to say.
The author, Bishop Thomas Ken [1637-1711], a writer of some of England’s most loved hymns. He lived in an age when ignorance replaced the Christian Faith, even by those ordained to believe and safeguard it. Ken was one of the seven Bishops who were held in the Tower of London by King James II, and was later deprived of his Diocese. So Ken was someone who believed that Truth matters.
From early times, Christians have differed about the importance they attach to Mary’s role in God’s Plan for the redemption of His world: some almost ignore it, whilst others, like us, believe her willing obedience was critical.
So we read Bishop Ken’s poem:
Her virgin eyes saw God incarnate born,
When she to Beth’lem came that happy morn;
How high her raptures then began to swell,
None but her own omniscient Son can tell”.
The first line states unequivocally that Jesus was, and is, God Incarnate, not just a “good man”, but both “Perfect God and Perfect Man”.
Bishop Ken continues by stressing the complete empathy (‘unity-of-spirit’) between Mother and Child. Only Jesus Himself, fully understands the bond of joy, sung by angels in heaven, as they beheld the Word made Flesh. Verse Two tells of the fatal mistake of Eve, the First Woman, who took the forbidden fruit:
As Eve when she her fontal sin reviewed,
Wept for herself and all she should include,
Blest Mary with man’s Saviour in embrace
Joyed for herself and for all human race.
As early as the 2nd century Saint Irenaeus saw Mary as The Second Eve – who helped to recapitulate the evil of Eve’s disobedience by her own obedience to God’s Word, in partnership with her Son, The Second Adam, in Whom God reconciled the world to Himself by that ‘One, True, Pure and Immortal Sacrifice of Himself upon the Cross’. This is the message of reconciliation which He entrusted us to share with others.
In Verse three, Bishop Ken takes another step. He says:
All Saints are by her Son’s dear influence blest,
She kept the very Fountain at her breast;
The Son adored and nursed by the sweet Maid
A thousand fold of love for love repaid.
It’s not just Mary, Jesus and the angels, who have reason to rejoice. We, as “Saints-in-the-Making” receive the means of grace and the hope of glory’. As Mary fed Jesus at her breast, we too can approach as close to Him as humanly possible and receive his Body and Blood
But even that is not the end of the story, for the fulfilment of joy for us, as for the Virgin Mary, lies beyond the grave as the last verse he says:
Heaven with transcendent joys her entrance graced,
Next to his throne her Son His Mother placed;
And here below, now she’s of heaven possessed.
All generations are to call her blest.
Bishop Ken has taken us from Earth to Heaven, and back to Earth again in just sixteen lines. Because that simple but virtuous teenager in Nazareth accepted God’s transformation of her into the Mother of God, she is now with her Son in Heaven. But our destiny is no less extraordinary than Mary’s.
If (like Mary) we say to God, “I am your servant, O God: do with me according to Your Will”, then we shall also discover those unspeakable joys which God ‘has prepared for those who unfeignedly love Him’– and in which Jesus, Mary, and the Heavenly Host already participate.
Fr, Francis Gardom