Mary treasured these things
On St Stephen’s Day, it was a great joy to be at St Julian’s Church in Norwich for Mass, celebrated in the cell of Julian of Norwich. I used to worship there before I was ordained. I am a nostalgic person and love to revisit old haunts to see if they are still the same and evoke distant memories that I treasure in my heart.
St Julian’s has a restored anchorhold, rebuilt on its old foundations after the war, unlike the one here at All Saints which is the real thing! Mother Julian suffered a near-death experience, during which she had intense revelations of divine love. It took her twenty years of pondering these revelations before she could understand their full meaning.
St Luke says that Mary treasured all these things in her heart after the Shepherds had left her. She treasured all these things: the annunciation, the visitation, the birth of Jesus and the visit of the shepherds. St Luke repeats the statement after Jesus is found in the Temple among the elders.
Some say this text proves that Mary was indeed the eye-witness to these events who repeated them to Luke. It is significant that of all the people who were present at the birth of Jesus, Mary was the only one reported to be there throughout the time of Jesus’ ministry. She was there through it all and beyond to the day of Pentecost and the birth of the church. What Mary treasured in her heart may only have made sense in the light of the death and resurrection of Jesus.
When I came back from Mass, my brother and sister-in-law had come round to visit, and when I mentioned that I had been to St Julian’s cell where mother Julian had her revelations, my brother reminded us how our mother had given him a small medal, with the text, ‘all shall be well ’which helped him through a particularly difficult period of his life, and he still carries that text with him, years later.
When we commit acts of random kindness, we never know what the effect of them might be. They might well be something that is treasured by another for a very long time. It may be that we only truly appreciate what others have done for us when we look back years later. The same may be true in our Christian faith: that we only really understand what God has done for us when we look back over past years.
God is always faithful. Among the fruits of the Spirit, faithfulness is especially important to the Christian today,and God blesses those who are faithful, for faithfulness keeps us close to him. Mary too was faithful to God and to Jesus. She was there with Jesus through it all. She did not always understand her son, she did not always approve of what he did, but she never deserted him, unlike others, and was there at the foot of the cross.
The angel had told her, ‘blessed are you among women.’ And blessed she was indeed, but that blessing was not exclusive to her, but extended by Jesus to all believers. When a woman in the crowd echoed the acclamation of the angel when she exclaimed, ‘blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that suckled you.’ Jesus replied ‘blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it.’
Mary is Mother of God and bearer of the eternal word of Christ. Like her, we too are bearers of this Word. We carry Christ in us and show him to the world when we speak and act as he did. The incarnation is an ongoing process as the word of God becomes part of us.
It is the privilege of the Christian today to have the word of God at our fingertips, instantly available to us, but we need to be familiar with it. The word of God must be treasured, and pondered to grow in our hearts, and to take effect in our lives. The word of God needs to move from the head to the heart.
Here we stand at the beginning of a New Year, at the end of a momentous year. We may well be going through a time of change that we only really understand the significance of in years to come. These are uncertain times, but the Christian must remain faithful: faithful in worship, faithful in prayer, faithful in pondering the holy word, faithful in good works, If we are faithful, we will be blessed, and we will be a blessing to others.
The message of Julian, 'all shall be well', is not a glib statement of naïve optimism, but an affirmation of sublime trust in the providence of God, a trust that is exemplified by the newly pregnant single mother who replied to the angel ‘Be it unto me according to thy word.’