Preacher: The Rev’d Canon Jenny Wilson
In the name of God, creating, redeeming, sanctifying, … Amen.
The film Shadowlands tells the story of C. S. Lewis and the woman, Joy, he met later in his life, fell in love with, and married. Joy was terminally ill and a scene towards the end of the film shows C. S. Lewis, whom Joy calls Jack, and Joy travelling to visit one of his favourite places, a river valley near Wales, that he knows as the Golden Valley. Joy speaks with Jack about the situation in which they find themselves:
You know, I don’t want to be somewhere else anymore.
I’m not waiting for anything new to happen, not looking around the next corner and over the next hill. I’m here now. That’s enough.
That’s your kind of happy, isn’t it? –
Yes. Yes, it is. It’s not going to last, Jack.
We shouldn’t think about that now. Let’s not spoil the time we have.
It doesn’t spoil it. It makes it real.
Let me just say it before this rain stops and we go back.
What is there to say?
That I’m going to die.
And I want to be with you then too.
The only way I can do that is if I’m able to talk to you about it now.
I’ll manage somehow. Don’t worry about me.
I think it can be better than that. I think it can be better than just managing. What l… What I’m trying to say is…the pain then is part of the happiness now. That’s the deal.
The pain then is part of the happiness now. That’s the deal. But it’s not just that. It’s not just that the pain that Joy and Jack will know in the future, when she is dying, and when she dies, is in some essential way woven together with the happiness they know as they drive through the countryside and eventually find the valley he so longed to show her. It’s not just that. It’s that she believes that knowing the interwovenness of the happiness and the pain, knowing that is better than just managing. That knowing this is somehow being the best they can be.
The pain then is part of the happiness now.
I think Mary knew this.
I think Mary, whose life as mother of Jesus we remember tonight, knew this. I think every story that is told about her, every painting, every icon drawn and gazed upon, hints that she knew this. Mary knew the truth that the deepest way of living life is to know and to live out of the fact that when you love someone pain and joy are interwoven. And so reflecting upon her life, the little really that we know of her life, and for some, praying in her company can help us know this truth too.
Mary knows about living the truth. Bravely, honestly, living the truth. We see this firstly in the story of the Annunciation. Mary is a young woman whose betrothal to the good man Joseph means that her life is set out for her. Gabriel interrupts her young life. He brings greetings from God and he tells her that she is not to be afraid for she has found favour with God. 31And Then Gabriel tells Mary that she will conceive in her womb and bear a son, who she will name Jesus. Mary embraces this meeting with her whole heart, her whole being. She embraces the fear she experiences when this God messenger interrupts her life; we know that as Gabriel tells her not to be afraid. She embraces his request. She ponders what is being asked of her. This word, ponder, means gives weight to. Mary treats as weighty, worthy of deep thought, her encounters with angels and what they tell her about her son. Nine months later, when Jesus is born and the shepherds visit Joseph and Mary and their baby in the stable and tell them about that baby, again Mary gives weight to the shepherds’ words. Luke writes that Mary treasures all that the shepherds said and ponders those words too in her heart.
In that first scene in which we meet Mary, when Gabriel announces that she will bear a son, Mary wrestles with Gabriel. Mary is not passive. “How can this be?” she asks the angel. How can it be that she can be with child when she is a virgin? She wants to understand what God is doing, how God will bring this blessing upon her. And then Gabriel explains, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. …36……37For nothing will be impossible with God.” Gabriel says. Mary struggles with fear and questions, she ponders and, only when Gabriel makes it clear that his message is about God at work, does she then give her assent. Mary bravely, honestly, lives the truth.
Mary then journeys to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Elizabeth names her blessed, names her the Mother of the Lord. Mary hears what is happening to her, understands this blessing. Each encounter she is given helps her understand the life as Jesus’ mother to which God is calling her. But she understands because she listens, she wonders, she embraces what she is bring told. And then the joy overflows in her. Only after she has so honestly struggled with fear and doubt and disbelief at what the angel is telling her, only after she has heard the witness of Elizabeth and Elizabeth’s child, does the joy of being the Mother of the Lord overflow in her.
And that joy overflows in song – the Magnificat that we sing at evensong each Sunday night – the Song of Mary in which she rejoices in God and what God is doing in her, a lowly woman. And she expresses her deep understanding of God’s ways. God intends peace for our earth and salvation for all, particularly those on the margins. Mary’s song, infused with the radical theology of the Old Testament, leaves us in no doubt that God’s embrace is wide and reverses the values of our world. God, in choosing Mary, who is lowliness herself, will bring down the powerful from their thrones, and lift up the lowly, will fill the hungry with good things and send the rich away empty. (Luke 1:52-4)
Mary knows the truth that the deepest way of living life is to know and to live out of the fact that when you love someone pain and joy are interwoven.
It is not long after her son is born that the shadow of the pain of loving crosses her path. Dean Frank reminded us this morning of Mary and Joseph’s encounter with Simeon when they took Jesus for the rite of purification in the temple. Simeon speaks the words that we sing at evensong as the Nunc Dimittis naming Jesus as the saviour of the whole world. Then Simeon* blesses them and says to Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’… a sword will pierce your own soul too. And the shadow of the pain of loving passes over them.
And Mary finds herself thirty years or so later at the foot of a cross on which her adult son is dying.
The pain then is part of the happiness now. That is the deal. The deal for Joy and C. S. Lewis as they faced Joy’s dying. The deal for Mary, Mother of our Lord, a young woman who knows about living the truth. Who bravely, honestly, lives the truth. The truth that when you love someone joy and pain are woven together. A joy and pain that finds redemption in the Mary’s Son, Jesus, living and dying and rising to new life.