Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Picture: cc Fraser Mummery
My dear friends, do you remember that test that we need to pass before we can get a driving license? I’m not referring to the driving test itself. That’s of course a given. I’m talking about what comes before that. Something more basic. As you know, we won’t even be allowed to take the driving test, let alone to get a driving license, without first learning the Highway Code.
And we all understand why. The Highway Code contains crucially important information about how to behave on the road. It teaches us how to recognise road signs. To understand and to obey them. So that we know how to behave properly while driving. To keep the roads safe. Otherwise, even if we may know how to operate a vehicle, if we don’t follow the signs, we will end up only endangering ourselves and others.
Learning to recognise, understand and obey road signs. This is what it means to pass the Highway Code. One of the first things we need to do to get a driving license. To be allowed to drive safely on the road. My dear friends, I wonder if something like this is also what we are trying to do today. As we celebrate the Solemn Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
As you know, this feast celebrates our belief that, when our Blessed Mother reached the end of her time on earth, she was assumed–taken up body and soul–into heaven. Now although it may sound incredible, this belief is actually not too difficult for us to grasp. It’s pretty straightforward. But our Mass readings remind us that there is something more going on here. More than just someone being beamed up into the sky. As they might on Star Trek. Our readings help us to see a deeper significance to the Assumption. And they do it in three steps. Not unlike the three steps of the Highway Code: recognition, understanding and obedience.
The first step is taken in the first reading. Here, we are told of two characters appearing in the heavens. A woman in the pangs of childbirth and a huge red dragon. But the reading doesn’t just describe what happens to these characters. It also teaches us to recognise them as signs. Thus prompting us to do the same with Mary’s Assumption. To consider it not just as a historical event. Something that happened to our Blessed Mother a very long time ago. But also to recognise it primarily as a sign. Not unlike the signs in the Highway Code. Signals with particular meanings. Calling us to behave in particular ways.
Having invited us to recognise the Assumption as a sign, the first reading then prompts us to take a second step. It helps us to understand its deeper meaning. We’re told that what happens to the woman and to the dragon in the reading constitutes a victory. And we’re thus invited to see the Assumption in the same way. As a sign of victory. Victory won by our God. Authority won for his Christ. But how exactly is this victory won? Against what enemies? And for whose benefit?
We find the answers to these questions in the second reading. Which tells us that the victory was won through the Dying and Rising of Christ. By which the Lord destroyed all his enemies. Especially sin and death. So that Mary’s Assumption points us to the same thing as the Cross of Christ. It is a sign of victory over everything that keeps us from experiencing the joy and peace of God’s kingdom. And this victory is meant to benefit not just Jesus and Mary. But everybody. Including you and me. For just as all die in Adam, so all will be brought to life in Christ.
A sign of a great victory over everything that makes us sad and fearful. Everything that causes us pain and suffering. Everything that oppresses and depresses us. A sign of tremendous and lasting joy. A joy to be shared by all who believe in Christ. By all who follow in his footsteps. This is the deeper meaning of the Assumption. But, as with the road signs in the Highway Code, this meaning is not just something theoretical. It is intended to be primarily practical. To truly recognise and understand this sign is to behave in a certain way. To obey what the sign is calling us to do. When we arrive at a STOP sign, for example, we obey it by stopping our vehicle. So what does it mean to obey the sign of the Assumption? How should we behave?
Quite obviously, since it is a sign of great victory shared by all of us, to obey it is simply to rejoice. And not just for a moment. The way many of us must have done yesterday morning. When we witnessed Joseph Schooling’s awe-inspiring triumph at the Olympics. The Assumption is an invitation not just to rejoice fleetingly, but for all eternity. To live consistently joyful and victorious lives. This is what it means to obey the sign. To do what the Assumption is calling us to do. This is the third step. From recognition to understanding to obedience. But what does this really look like? What does it look like when people actually recognise and understand the deeper meaning of this sign? When they truly obey the call to live joyously victorious lives? This is the question that the gospel helps us to answer.
The passage is a familiar one. It’s the story of the Visitation of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth. The story of the meeting between two pregnant women on a mission. One has been travelling as quickly as she could through hill country. The other is old, but already in the sixth month of her pregnancy. They must both be exhausted. And yet their encounter contains neither complaint nor irritation. Neither depression nor anxiety. There is only joy. A joy expressed in the willingness to endure great inconvenience, in order to render service to another. A joy demonstrated in the ability to celebrate another’s triumph. Without any trace of jealousy or envy or competition. A joy that culminates in song. A spontaneous hymn of praise and thanksgiving to God.
Joy expressed in service, celebration and praise. This is what it looks like when people recognise, understand and obey the signs of God. The sign of Mary’s Assumption. And yet, my dear friends, how many of us truly experience this kind of joy on a regular basis? I dare not say for sure. Not even for myself. But isn’t it just as likely that, for some of us, even those who may be materially rich, life often feels more like a crushing burden than a joyful celebration? Don’t some of us experience even our closest relationships as more of a suffocation than a support? Isn’t our regular emotional state often characterised more by anger and frustration, than by care and compassion?
It’s as though we have learned to drive through life without first learning how to recognise the road signs of God’s presence and action in our world. We may know how to operate the vehicle. But we don’t know how to obey the signs. As a result we end up posing a danger to ourselves and to others. Isn’t this why we need the Assumption? A celebration that helps us to familiarise ourselves once again with the signs of God. In order to experience the joy that they bring. And so to share it with others.
My dear friends, we have all somehow passed the driving test of life. We have all obtained our driving licenses. What must we do to deepen our knowledge of the Highway Code today?