Something is happening in Christ’s church.
Along with the increasing unification and convergence of which the CEC is a part, comes a renewed interest in Mary and the role she has played within the church from its beginning. You see signs of it everywhere; from articles in Christianity Today to the cover of Time Magazine. It’s a natural part of the universal church’s trend toward a return to the ancient church; the church that existed before and after the Reformation and the tremendous splintering that followed. Many Protestant denominations have drifted a long way from the church that the Reformers envisioned and practiced, and some are beginning to look back at what was lost.
They are wondering if they threw the mother out with the bathwater.
It’s true: Protestants are realizing that there is something about Mary.
The Reformers Weigh In
People from Protestant backgrounds are often on the look out for “Mariolotry”; a worship of Mary as if she was a god. If asked about their suspicions they might say that any form of devotion to Mary falls into that category. They might think that the Reformers did away with all of that stuff.
History shows a slightly different picture however.
While the Reformers were rightly concerned with the extreme to which some Roman Catholics took Marian devotion, they believed that there was a need for moderating that extremity rather than ditching her altogether.
Let’s take a look at some quotes from prominent Reformers.
Ulrich Zwingli, founder of the Reformation in Switzerland, said “The more the honor and love of Christ increases among men, so much the esteem and honor given to Mary should grow.”
John Calvin, one of the more severe critics of Marionism, called Mary “the treasurer of grace”.
In Martin Luther’s last sermon at Wittenberg in January 1546, shortly before his death, he said “Is Christ only to be adored? Or is the holy Mother of God rather not to be honoured? This is the woman who crushed the Serpent’s head. Hear us. For your son denies you nothing.”
Did you catch that? He asked Mary to “Hear us, for your son denies you nothing”! Luther himself not only recognized Mary as a powerful intercessor, but asked her for assistance!
So what happened? If the Reformers themselves understood the importance of Mary’s role, and believed that she could make requests of her Son on our behalf, how have we come to be so biased against her?
God Gives Jesus His Mother
Advent takes us back to Christ’s first coming; in human form. From the beginning of church history there has been a mental struggle in believers to grasp the mystery of Jesus being both Man and God, fully human and fully divine. We may be able to voice agreement with this in theory, but there is still a real difficulty in accepting that God could actually also be as one of us. Although Christmas should be the time when we celebrate God coming to earth as a human being, we somehow lose sight of the delivery mechanism.
This year, let’s try to enter more deeply into the reality of awaiting him, just as Mary waited while He grew within her.
God came to us as a baby, through the auspices of a mother. If this was not significant or worthy of our contemplation, God would have chosen another method. He could have created Jesus fully formed just as he did the first Adam.
But He didn’t.
He chose instead to work through a human woman. He chose to allow her to gestate him, to bear him, to nurse him at her breast, to prevent him from crawling into the fire or under the wheels of a donkey cart, to teach him the Psalms, to help him learn to honor his Father…
He chose that Jesus be formed; physically, emotionally, and spiritually, in the structure of a family, with a human mother and father.
Mary even played a critical role in the launching of His ministry. At the wedding in Cana, she encouraged him to perform a miracle despite his reluctance, just as a mom of today might encourage her child to give the two-wheeler a try despite his insistence on being too little.
Why? Would God allow a woman so important a role without purpose? Would He risk giving a human so much responsibility without having a darned good reason? Or is there something He wants us to understand about the method He chose?
Jesus Gives Us His Mother
In the end, we come to Jesus on the cross.
Chapter 19 of John’s Gospel gives us Jesus’ final instructions:
26 When Jesus then saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, "Woman, behold, your son!" 27 Then He said to the disciple, "Behold, your mother!" From that hour the disciple took her into his own household. 28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, to fulfill the Scripture, said, "I am thirsty."
The early church understood this to be an instruction for all believers in all ages, just as it did of the command to feed His sheep.
Jesus’ last request before dying was to give his Mother to us, his beloved disciples. And once He had given her to us and us to her, He knew that all had been accomplished.
How much emphasis do you think should be placed on deathbed requests?
Jesus final instruction was that Mary take us as her children, and that we take her as our spiritual mother. Earlier on, He told us to honor our father and mother.
Were Jesus’ final words meaningless?
Would God’s final instructions be trivial?
Have we honored His final request?
Are we obedient to the fourth commandment?
Mary in the Ancient-Future Church
So where do we go from here?
In recent discussions about CEC doctrine, Bishop Bates paraphrased a statement often attributed to St. Augustine: In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.
We are called to love God with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. Bishop Craig urges us to deal with all other things with charity.
At a very minimum, the idea of honoring Mary should be met with charity.
And it is possible that Jesus would have us offer her more than simply that.
this is exactly (!) what you and i were talking about. what a great summation.
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