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Is the Assumption an assumption?

Posted By : Tom Clammer Friday 15th August 2014

A Sermon by Canon Tom Clammer, Precentor

Friday 15 August

The Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary

My evangelical friends get all worked up on the 15th of August, and get very cross with me, if I post anything on Facebook referring to the Feast of the Assumption. The Feast of the ‘massive assumption’, they call it, being able to find few references in scripture to support the idea that Our Lady was assumed, body and soul, into heaven without passing through mortal death.

When this Cathedral church was dedicated, it was dedicated to Our Lady of the Assumption, and so on this, the principle Feast of Title of this cathedral Church, I offer to you just one brief thought, as there is not officially supposed to be a sermon tonight! That single thought is this:

It seems to me that the doctrines of the Assumption, or indeed the Immaculate Conception of our Lady, are secondary to the core doctrine of the church, secondary to the key element in this extraordinary woman’s life, which is summed up in one of the very few titles commonly accepted across the denominations: Our Lady, Theotokos: God-bearer, or literally Mother of God.

Christianity only works if Jesus Christ is fully human, as well as fully divine. And that works because there is a conception, a birth and a childhood as well as an adult life. He has a mother, he is rooted firmly in the history of this world and of the universe: Mary, the God-bearer, the one whose faithfulness, trust and bravery conspires with the Holy Spirit to incarnate God himself, to bring God into the world among and alongside us. Mary may have been assumed. We could talk about that another time. She may have been conceived without sin, though that seems to add nothing much to the doctrine. But she was, she is, the God-bearer, the Mother of God, standing at the very heart of our faith, the one who comes closest in life to the grace and glory which awaits us all in the world to come.

I am inspired by these words of Gerald Manly Hopkins, from his much longer poem, The Blessed Virgin Mary Compared to the Air we Breathe:

This air, which, by life's law,

My lung must draw and draw
Now but to breathe its praise,
Minds me in many ways
Of her who not only
Gave God's infinity
Dwindled to infancy
Welcome in womb and breast,      
Birth, milk, and all the rest
Mary Immaculate,
Merely a woman, yet
Whose presence, power is
Great as no goddess's
Was deemèd, dreamèd; who
This one work has to do--
Let all God's glory through.