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Hallo again to all.

Almost any year other than this year, today would be Lady Day, the Feast of the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary. We remember some notable occasions on which the 25th Day of March fell in Holy Week itself, making an impossibly moving juxtaposition of the Saviour's conception and his death. This year, it is just a Sunday in Lent that displaces this wonderful feast by a day.

Rooftop AnnunciationDespite today not being the Annunciation, we have been humming to ourselves for most of the day Sabine Baring-Gould's masterful Annunciation hymn, itself the translation of a Basque song:

The angel Gabriel from heaven came,
His wings as drifted snow, his eyes as flame;
"All hail," said he, "thou lowly maiden Mary,
Most highly favored lady," Gloria!

The hymn tells the story of the Annunciation in a Rashomon-like way from several angles forming a constellation of views: the first two verses in narration, and in the voice of the archangel; the third verse in the words of our Lady herself; and the last verse in our own responsive words in awe of this event.

"For know a blessed Mother thou shalt be,
All generations laud and honor thee,
Thy Son shall be Emmanuel, by seers foretold,
Most highly favored lady," Gloria!

The hymn focusses our attention without equivocation on the essential role of St Mary the Virgin in bringing about our salvation. Only the tiniest minority-within-a-minority of Anglicans would speak of her as 'co-redemptrix', to use a danger-fraught Roman Catholic term. But we find no way to read the scripture or the hymn without her will being the key to the fruition of God's will. This is not a facile distinction between voluntarism or compulsion—such as bedevils debates about disestablishment in the Church of England—but something much more magnificent: we see each year on Lady Day a universe-changing idea about how good is accomplished on earth.

Then gentle Mary meekly bowed her head,
"To me be as it pleaseth God," she said,
"My soul shall laud and magnify his holy Name."
Most highly favored lady, Gloria!

By the end of the hymn, we find ourselves—as we all shall again in just nine months, gentle shoppers—on a Christmas morning with the new Babe in Mary's lap and ours. Between now and then, there are all the sorrowful and glorious events of the Paschal cycle: Triumphal Arrival, Death, Resurrection, Ascension, and the Coming of the Holy Ghost. We cannot get from the shock and awe of Annunciation (whether today or tomorrow) to the cozy joys of Christmas without the sometimes painful and often strenuous events of the next 70 days.

Of her, Emmanuel, the Christ, was born
in Bethlehem, all on a Christmas morn,
and Christian folk throughout the world will ever say—
"Most highly favored lady," Gloria!

The Annunciation teaches us today and each day that we get from Here to There by a kind of synergy between God's will and ours. We find the accomplishment of God's loving will for humanity first in our active acceptance of it. We learn to love by doing love, instead of just assenting to it as an intellectual idea. For a people—as the Anglican people so often pride themselves to be—who claim the Incarnation as the touchstone of our faith, this is no small thing. Today is generally, and tomorrow will be this year, the Feast of the Annunciation of the Incarnation first of all. And even in the midst of Lent, this is very good news.

See you next week.

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All of us at Anglicans Online

25 March 2012


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