Do you recognise this prayer?:
Beneath your compassion,
We take refuge, O Mother of God:
do not despise our petitions in time of trouble:
but rescue us from dangers,
only pure, only blessed one.
Christian devotion to Mary goes back to the 2nd century. “Beneath Thy Protection” or “Sub tuum praesidium” is the earliest known Marian prayer.
So, today, a celebration of the Blessed Virgin Mary – is something we Christians have been doing for a very, very long time. I don't know if they had asparagus rolls in the 2nd Century, that sadly isn't identified in the original papyrus of “Beneath Thy Protection.”
Well, it's no surprise to us that this is a timehonoured tradition for Christians. But recognition of Mary is not restricted to us. Did you know that Mary is a revered figure for our Muslim brothers and sisters too?
Mary is both identified in the New Testament and in the Quran as the mother of Jesus through divine intervention.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, is mentioned as Maryam, more in the Quran than in the entire New Testament. She enjoys a singularly distinguished and honoured position among women in the Qur'an. A chapter in the Qur'an is titled “Maryam”, which is the only Sura or chapter in the Qur'an named after a woman. The significance of the telling of Mary's childhood (far more detailed than the Gospels) is an incredible backdrop to the extraordinary event constituted by the birth of her son Jesus.
Amazing, awe-inspiring what Mary's humble loving response to God has done for the World.
I have a daughter who is exactly the age that Mary was when she was carrying Jesus in her womb. She's in Year Nine at Girls' High. I look at the complications and challenges of that age of her life and I laugh with Sarah of Genesis at the grace and love of God to work so great a wonder through a person of such lowly station. Presumably God could also get someone of that age to get out of bed in the morning, but that's a miracle for another day.
Mary had not the slightest notion of the ramifications of her sacrificial “yes” to God, and that billions and billions of people would know her name and even pray to her. It goes to show what God can work through the simplicity of a “yes”. Of a willing heart.
Years ago now, as a fledgling priest, I served some time as rector of three country parishes in the South West of England. They were busy, buzzing communities; retirement havens with lots of volunteer activity going. One day, I remember one of the church wardens pointing out to me to another Mary, in the village. “That's Mary,” he said. “She helps out at the church” “Ah yes? What does she do?”
I was expecting a string of commitments that everyone seemed to have after their name; secretary of the X, treasurer of the Y, Feeder of the 5,000 at any of the multiplicity of social events.
“She cleans the brass pot, in the chancel.”
...I waited for the next bit. There was a long pause.
Right! Well, that was certainly unexpected. She cleans the brass pot. That's her role. Bit underwhelming. I hadn't even noticed the pot.
Next time I was in the church in question, I had a look. Sure enough, there it was. Small, dumpy, brass pot. It contained a few flowers, and it sat by the aumbry. And it gleamed, and it shone and reflected the sun's light. I thought not much of it at the time. But those words circled in my head. I never, ever – not even once, saw Mary cleaning that pot, nor anywhere else in the village – never again after that day. But I have never forgotten her. She has helped to form me. How she came to be the one who cleaned it, I simply have no idea. But clean it, she did. And the way she cleaned it, the way it gleamed, shaped my ministry, and still does. She could never know the effect that the humble offering that she made, to the glory of God, has affected me.
“That's Mary. She cleans the brass pot in the chancel.” All I ever heard spoken of her were those ten words. She showed me anew that the humblest action brings glory to God, and that God works through the most apparently minor gift beyond human knowing. The pot reflected the sun's light. The pun is intended; for the work that you do, fellow Christian, reflects the Son's light. The outward streaming light of the Son of God, borne by teenage Mary.
You are not called to be Mary. But there is a pot to be polished. It may be that you have been polishing it for years. It may be like Catharine, who will speak today : “Wahakura – Weaving a Community” or it may be an entirely different form of weaving. I think of Don Steer, who passed away very recently. He polished the pot – he handed out the service booklets. Those who knew Don will never forget the significance of that apparently tiny ministry.... for its beauty was beyond all telling. Ministry it was. He reflected the Son's light.
Consider for a moment, a pot that needs to be polished.
Owen Henry is a New Plymouth resident, aged 92. He is polishing a pot, producing and gifting the cards I'm going to hand around, quoting another potpolisher, who, over 3000 years ago, wrote... “Cast me not off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength faileth.”
Glory to God, for the pot that YOU polish, for those blessed by its gleam, and for the pot that God has ready for you to begin shining up. Amen.