The first time I heard the phrase ‘Hail Mary’ was on the rugby pitch. A Hail Mary is a rugby pass that is so high that the person receiving the ball could not watch out for oncoming players, they therefore would have time to pray that they did not get clobbered in the oncoming tackle.
By the time I was a teenager I had learned that Hail Mary was an important prayer.
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you.
Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners,
Now and at the hour of our death. Amen
What I’ve always found so touching about this prayer is that I’m asking Mary to pray for me. But who was this woman who I am asking to pray for me? Within the great tradition of the Orthodox Church, Mary is known as the Theotokos, mother of God, but to understand what that means we must reflect on the biblical texts.
Within the biblical traditions we are told that Mary grew up in Nazareth, a small village in Galilee. It was there in that out of the way part of the Roman Empire that the Angel of the Lord, Gabriel, appeared to this astonishing young woman. In that moment; that amazingly brave young woman said:
Here I am, the servant of the Lord: let it be with me according to your word.
In this moment alone we see two of Mary’s great qualities: humility and courage. This is the kind of person that I have asked to pray for me.
Rowan Williams writes
“What we call holy in the world - a person, a place, a set of words or pictures – is so because the completely foreign is brought together with the familiar and the everyday.”
No one embodies this more than Mary, who literally makes a home for the Creator of all things in her own body and in her own house - the strangest reality we can conceive.
In her own body and in her own house.
Mary is the one that bore Jesus and the one that nurtured him through those early years of his life. The church believes that Jesus is both fully divine and human; therefore He must have taken after Mary, in her looks, her actions. Both would have spoken Aramaic with the same local accent. Jesus, we know had many gifts, but maybe the gifts of love, integrity and courage were influenced by his mother Mary?
And then there are two stories where we see how close mother and son were. In John’s Gospel, at the wedding feast of Cana there is the story of water being turned into wine; it is Mary, who tells the servants to listen to Jesus and it is Mary who gently pushes her son into beginning his ministry.
Then at the darkest moment of Jesus ministry, in the shadow of the cross, Mary is to be found. At the foot of the cross when others have run away Mary is still holding on and believing.
On this important day in the church’s calendar and in this most beautiful church dedicated to Mary, let us not forget her important role in the Christian story. And as we make our pilgrimage through life, let us be humble enough to ask others to pray for us and I would say do not be afraid to ask our Lord’s mother Mary to pray for you too.
Sermon preached on the Festival of the Blessed Virgin Mary at St Mary’s Church, Shrewsbury.
Fr Mark Chadwick