by Pete Schrank
The theme this month is Women in the Church. Many people say the Christian religion is at worst anti-woman or at best places women in a secondary position to men. I believe that this is not the case. We have many examples of influential women such as Mary (of Bethany) and Martha, Mary Magdalene, Ruth, Rachel, Naomi, Lydia, and of course Mary the Mother of Jesus. We have the woman at the well, the woman that just touches Jesus’ robe knowing that this could heal her. There are many, many more examples of women building the faith we now all confess. However this story is about Mary the Mother of Jesus.
When the Men’s Bible Study group was looking at the Christian challenge of Islam, I was very surprised to see that some Muslims believe the Christian Trinity to be the Father God, the Son Jesus, and the Blessed Virgin Mary! This I believe comes from the Catholic Church elevating Mary to someone we should pray to as we pray the Rosary. The prayer is “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.” Not to pick on the Catholic Church, but they also believe that Mary was without sin (immaculate) and had no other children. These are not things that we as Lutherans believe. The Catholic Church as recently as 1950 states that Mary was assumed into heaven body and soul and celebrate her Assumption each year.
After the Reformation some Protestant denominations stated that Mary was just like you and me. That seems a bit too much of a swing in the other direction. As Lutherans we still hold Mary in the highest regard. Lutherans continue to celebrate the memory of the Virgin Mary in the chief feasts associated with her: Annunciation, Visitation, Purification and, of course, Christmas. We look only to scripture to praise and honor Mary.
As faithful Christians we know Jesus was making sure we don’t miss out on what made Mary truly blessed: not merely that she was privileged to give birth to Him, but rather, that her deepest blessedness came when God spoke His promise to her and she believed it – and not only believed it, but kept and “treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart”
All of this means that Mary is the virgin mother foretold in Isaiah 7:14. She is the Mother of our Immanuel (God-with-us). This, of course, is not saying that she herself is divine, or eternal, or without sin or anything at all like that. Lutherans understand that Mary is a truly human creature, who freely admitted herself in need of a Savior just like we are, and was chosen by God’s grace to become the mother of the Eternal Word. She really is the Mother of God. God the Eternal Word took on flesh in her womb, nursed at her breasts and was swaddled in the warmth of her embrace. Mary loved and guided Jesus just like her other children.
Mary is not, then, “contrary” to our confession. As Lutherans, we remember her and thank God for her life. We find our faith strengthened when we ponder the way God’s grace worked in her as we hope it works in us. We certainly want to imitate her joyous “yes” to the will of God, and her holding tight to the words and promises of salvation and life eternal she heard.
Fittingly, Mary’s last recorded words in the Bible are, “Do whatever He tells you”. In this, Mary sets a fine example for us to follow – one that invites us all to trust in her Son’s love and join the psalmist in crying out: “Not to us, O Lord! Not to us but to Your name be glory”. All that we do and all that we have is for God’s glory.