Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’And so the one whom the whole universe could not contain, was held in the womb of a Jewish girl.
Mary is a lens through which we can see the story of Jesus. There at the beginning, in that moment when the World knows God is living in it again. It's like a reversal of Eden. The first time God walked with humans on earth, according to that ancient myth, it was a disobedient woman who talked a disobedient man out of that position of wonder. But now there's a reverse. An obedient woman says "yes" to God, and an obedient man is walking the earth again. This time, not one who will fail. But it takes Mary's "yes" to let God walk the earth again.
Mary is the one through whom the Gospel is revealed. She knows God - who's been communicating through prophets and priests the past few millennia - is now properly in the game. She sees the wonder of her cousin's pregnancy - and the greeting she receives in return, as the unborn John the Baptist leaps in Elizabeth's womb to greet his cousin and Saviour.
And she suffers a series of martyrdoms. That initial rejection by Joseph, until he learns better. The rejection we get when we do strange things because we love God - Mary got that. She has accepted God's will, and at the first hurdle Joseph is - quite reasonably - upset and suspicious. He's got to know the rules of the game before he can accept her.
And the time she spent - after wondering at his growing strength and wisdom - feeling rejected. Like so many mothers, before and after - she's left, in a way, bereaved. He's not clinging to her skirts any more - not wandering the paths around Nazareth, lisping the names of plants and places and animals and people as he takes in the wonders of the world that he made. He's left home, he's got his own ways - he's playing by the rules of his own game, living his own life. Saying strange things, running wild risks. And when she thinks he's out of his mind, and comes to get him - he says who is his mother, who are his brothers - the whole world, if they accept his teaching. And who are those strange women who follow him around?
Then those six hours at the cross. Broken and desolate. I remember the grief of my own gran at my uncle's funeral. My gran, in a way cursed by her own longevity - lived to see the death of her son, at a decent age, but still too young. My nan was confused, senile (at an age when you no longer say it's premature) but still feeling the pain, still numbed by the shock. But for Mary, still maybe not yet 50, still in her senses, still - in our terms - a middle-aged woman. To see her son, so young, so active, so healthy, so charismatic - promising so much - nailed like a crow to a piece of wood under the sky and left to die. And the dark hours as he was taken down, hastily pushed into a borrowed grave - in this stranger's grave - the confusion - how did he know Joseph of Arimathea? What was he doing there, taking her son away: just as his cousin had; just as his disciples had; just as the crowds had; just as the Romans had? Why was he always being taken away from her?
And maybe her mind went back to that time, that other time in Jerusalem, twenty years earlier, when she'd turned and he was gone. That time they'd run back, and found him - after three days - in his Father's house. Whole, and well, and astounding the wise men. That time they had. But this time, without Joseph, with just Jesus's strange friends to support her - this time, for Mary, there was to be no restoration.
And so as the earth went dark on that springtime Friday afternoon, so Mary went dark with it. God had promised so much through her - demanded so much from her. She was God's servant, and she'd done what she asked - and look what she'd received.
Small wonder, when the dawn broke on the Sunday after the Sabbath, if she couldn't face the visit down to the grave. The other Mary - the woman who'd dared to stay with Jesus through that long Friday - she went. And some friends. Very early in the Sunday morning, news came out of the garden. Strange, unsettling news. They came back with a story, as weird as discovering Jesus in the temple with the wise men all those years ago. In fact, weirder by half than that.
Was she there in the closed room that night, when he appeared, the time that Thomas wasn't there? Was she there the next week, by Galilee, on the mountain? She was certainly there when the Spirit fell and she knew that the Son she'd accepted; the Son she raised; the Son she'd mourned; the Son she'd received back from the dead, was going to be with her - in her every breath - for the rest of her life. And when she who once held the hopes of the whole world died, she was in her turn received by her Son. And I believe, as she gave up her life on earth to bring heaven into the world, she spends all eternity in heaven praying for the earth through which she was saved. Which is why I'm happy to ask her;
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.