The Readings for the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Astitit regina a dextris tuis in vestitu deaurato, circumdata varietate.
The queen takes her place at your right hand in gold of Ophir.
Let me tell you a love story. This is a real love story, not a romance, such as we pass off today as love; nor is it a “chick flick” sort of story, where things are all feelings and mush. Yet it is not a fairy story, for this is real. And since it deals with real things, with real love, it is not just a story of a man and a woman, not just boy meets girl. For real love does not just change the hearts of two people, like some blushing beauty and the quarterback at a football game. Real love changes the world. And so it must start with two ordinary people. This story involves a princess who would be a queen ere long, and a king who would die, and the king’s son would would also reign. But I get ahead of myself.
It starts in the most ordinary way: an arranged marriage and a baby coming, awkwardly, before the wedding. This Baby is God the Son, and I don’t want to tip too many cards but you should know the Baby is Jesus, and the princess is Mary. And the arranged wedding is with Joseph. See her father, Joachim, place Mary’s hand in Joseph’s. Arranged marriages are where love can blossom first and foremost. We have it in our heads that Romance is Love. But it is not. And Romance does not give way to love. Romance is your hormones running amok. We are so confused by this that when the hormones stop running, we think love has ended. We take great pains to continue the run… but an arranged marriage with no pretense of romance, must needs give rise to duty.
Then Real Love, the Love that this story is about, grows directly from duty. Real love is self-sacrifice, and even death. Real love sings most gloriously just before it dies, and makes of an entire life an aria of surpassing pain and light. And then it offers it all up to God.
So Joseph, who was put into an arranged marriage, was there as a middle aged man getting a young second wife, or else as a teenager, but either way, this man discovered his duty to God coming first even in his marriage bed. And in that duty, the man arose in strength of the Spirit, and loved his wife and her son, giving glory to the Royal line he embodied, this poorest son of King David. He was providing safety for them both, and a home. His life wrapped up in their lives, and theirs in his. True love changed him forever.
Yet he died. And his wife, the Queen, mourned him and never married again, raising his children and her own son, and caring for all. And Jesus, too, knowing the death of his father, and the pain that young children have over things they do not understand, learned what it is when God loses by death what he loves in life. And Jesus cared for his mother in her loss. And God knows what it is to see a parent grieve, when we children cannot offer the right comfort. God knows the pain that we feel. I don’t just mean God understands, or in his wisdom “gets” it. I mean, damn it all, God has actually done these very things.
And Love – real love – changes the world.
The boy becomes a man. The woman ages. The prince rises as King in David’s line after the man who fostered him. And as something else, the Anointed of God. And the woman, the Queen watching from the side, knows where all this is leading.
And when she comes again to the fore, she is standing before his very throne and a little to the right, as reigning from the tree, he is slain. And the King gives us all his mother. And she becomes our mother too.
Again she mourns. For her love, a mother’s duty, is now slain. And she does not understand, does not know why God has singled her out for this grief. Her heart is pierced by seven swords and God now must watch in ways we cannot understand, while his own mother mourns the loss of her only son. God, who knows all things, know now, this, too, from the inside.
Something new happens now. In tradition, the Resurrection – which we all see coming – is depicted as the harrowing of hell, with Christ holding the hands of Adam and Eve as signs of all humanity rising. If you will, however, see Christ bursting the gates of hell and finding first his Daddy who is proud beyond a father’s knowing, and there are tears of joy in that place where never joy has been. And in the clasped arms of love the darkness is destroyed, and hell washes away in peals of Dad and Son laughing at how painful it was, but it was only the end of night. Real love changes everything.
Now this love story has one more act. After the Resurrection, after the Ascension and Pentecost, and after more time than the tradition will let us know. When the Queen grew old beyond need, and the Church was ready to blossom forth. She, too, died. And her apostolic sons, given to her by Jesus, gathered around her, prayed, and wept. The last of that Holy Family now gone.
But the icons tell a different story. How, as she lay falling asleep, the walls of time and space parted, and her Son came to receive her into his arms. And she saw him, there, with Angels and Powers of all, singing her praise and the praise of the Son she bore. And as they turned to go, a man was there too. See the Son, Jesus, place his mother Mary’s hand in his father Joseph’s. That reunion was beyond all joys ever known. Then Joseph, Mary, and Jesus leave her house on earth together. For Christ does not leave us as we are, nor can the world be the same after.
The Holy Family is a sign of our rebirth, of our life beyond. True love – real love – changes not just two hearts, but the entire world, all space and time. Once upon a time is now: if you will but discern the path of real love.
A blessed feast!