Normally the Church would celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation today here in the UK. But because this is also Holy Week, the date is put forward to Monday April 8th, the day after Divine Mercy Sunday, which is the Sunday after Easter Sunday.
However, I have some thoughts on the celebration of the Annunciation, which I would like to share, which I feel are also apt to our preparations leading up to Easter; which involve one of the messages of the heart of Easter; our willingness to serve, to be ready, and our willingness to be transformed, so I will post this today anyway.
As the Christian Church holds, the Annunciation is when the angel Gabriel visited Mary, and told her that she had been chosen amongst women to bear the Christ child. Now it is easy for us to think in terms of this being long in the past, we know she agreed to this, we forget just what a huge “ask” this was of her, how inconvenient, how difficult it would be for her to be pregnant and single, how hard for Joseph to come to terms with the fact that his fiancée is telling him she is pregnant….by God no less. We can only imagine what must have been going through his mind! We of course know that all turns out well, Joseph sticks by her, they have the baby and that baby is unique for the whole world.
But for me, there is another message in this account. Mary had choice. She could have said no. She said yes. She had to make a choice, to say yes to God and to be willing, not only to carry this through but also to be transformed by it herself. One of the meditation cards by the Northumbrian Community is this:
I say ‘Yes, my Lord’ in all the good times through all the bad times.
Thomas Keating In his book entitled “Invitation to Love”, the Trappist monk and founder of Contemplative Outreach, details four consents. He says that the spiritual journey is a training in consent in God’s presence and to all reality and that at each major stage of that development God asks us to make an appropriate consent. In childhood, he says, God asks us to consent to the basic goodness of our nature with all its parts. In early adolescence, God asks us to accept the full development of our being by activating our talents and creative energies. The consent asked of us in early adulthood is to accept the fact of our non-being and the diminution of self that occur through illness, old age and death. And finally, the fourth consent that is asked of us is the consent to be transformed. He further says that we do not make these consents as ends in themselves, but rather to the will of God present in all these things. We consent to God and to his will both in the enjoyment and in the surrender of his gifts.
When we see suffering in others, we react with their pain ourselves too. It is possible to lose sight of who Jesus was and what God did at these points. We are not asked to simply have faith in an unknown intangible or love a remote God however. Jesus entered our world as fully human. Clothed in a human body, growing up in a human family, experiencing physical and emotional pain he lived his life alongside us. He died a cruel and lingering death, nailed to a cross, whilst also innocent, as innocent as the children massacred in Sandy Hook. He was not guilty as charged. He said “Yes” to us before He asked us to say “Yes” to him. He said yes to incarnating, yes to living with us and experiencing all that we experience in order to really feel and know intimately what it is to be fully human. He said yes to what was intended to be an ignoble death, and said yes to following his Fathers will to the grave and beyond in his blessed resurrection. He said yes in good times and through all the bad times. I believe that with his power, he could have saved himself, said no to death. He could have chosen to justify that by being able to spend more time here on earth, teaching, healing, and sharing with us. Yet he said yes, quite simply because he was in full union with his Father in Heaven and wanted us to know him too, to draw us closer to the Father through his own example in his life, his death and his resurrection. In this sacrificial act, and subsequent resurrection we are no longer asked to worship a remote God, but to walk confidently knowing our Father loves us and all creation. We are promised that we will meet him, and that he knows every hair on our heads, as well as our cares and concerns before we have even voiced them. This being so, it indicates that our Father is intimately connected with even the smallest detail of our lives and that they matter to him. Jesus brings us a loving Father, who knows his creation and yearns for it to know him. Jesus showed us in his actions both his availability to God and his intentional vulnerability. We too are invited to do accept that invitation, the same invitation that is the Annunciation.
I say “Yes, my Lord” calls us to intimate attentiveness of being. It calls us to raise our awareness of the pending call to action, at any time, in any encounter, ‘anytime, anyplace, anywhere’ as the song goes. We are asked to be mindful to God, to listen carefully, to be fully engaged in our consciousness and use our faculties; not numb them with substances or situations that lower our sense of Divine Presence. Our bodies are temples for the Spirit of the Lord; temples which if attended properly may yield his presence to us. Our temple can be a welcoming and inviting place of encounter, fit to meet our Lord if we tend it mindfully. It can be a pleasing place to the Lord. Within this temple lies the secret of secrets, the place where Lover and Beloved meet, beyond time and space, in encounters that may never find adequate expression in mere words, but whose witnessing is the very food of life itself and joy as well as solace to the Soul.
Yet our covenant with our Lord is also timeless when we say “Yes”. It is ongoing and asks of us a certain way of choosing, a certain way of living. It is not just a covenant of the mind and spoken word. It is a covenant of the heart; which asks of us that we live according to the ways we were taught by Jesus when he walked among us. We are to love each other as he loved us. We are to offer the other cheek when someone offends us. We are to give what is due to Caesar as well as give to God what is due to God, and not confuse the two. We are to be the Good Samaritan. We are to honour the Ten Commandments handed down through Moses. We are to store up our treasure in heaven and not on earth. And we are to pray as he taught us. We are to share our bread and our wine in remembrance of him, to share our common possessions and not covert what others have. We are asked to forgive each other as we are forgiven by our Father in heaven. We are asked to become as children, to be as wise as serpents and harmless as doves, [Matthew 10:16] because he sends us out amongst wolves. We must retain our innocence as children of God, whilst not being fools. Further, we must not worry about where our next meal will come from, or how we shall clothe ourselves, for our Father knows of our needs before we do. Apart from the Ten Commandments, these are guides of behaviour, not rules and Thomas Keating reminds us that God gave us only Ten Commandments urging us as humans not to be so willing to create more that we must tie ourselves up with in our daily spiritual practises!
I say “Yes, my Lord” in all the good times and through all the bad times. I have faith that you are leading me and I follow with all my heart and soul. Stay close by me and guide me, drawing me ever closer to your presence, that I may see you face to face once again. Amen. Below is a painting of the Annunciation as imagined by Fra Angelico, simply one of my most favourite artists ever!