The Ark of God

Today we celebrate the feast of the Assumption of Mary, as we proclaim that she was taken body and soul into heaven. Unlike the Ascension of Jesus, there are no biblical traditions associated with this teaching of the church. The earliest references to Mary’s assumption appear as early as the fifth century, but we are uncertain of the actual origin of the feast. The readings assigned for the day do not throw light on the Assumption itself. Instead, they invite us to reflect on aspects of Mary’s life here on earth, specifically the fact that she brought the Son of God into the lives of others.

In the Gospel story, we see Mary, pregnant with Jesus, traveling to the house of Zachariah where he is recognized by Elizabeth and Elizabeth’s own yet-unborn child. While we think of Mary in this capacity as expectant mother, she is also a true Christ-bearer, one who brings Christ to others. The very first verse of the reading from Revelation sets the context within which the woman heavy with child should be understood. It calls to mind an ancient Israelite object that symbolized the presence of God in the midst of the people: “the ark of his covenant could be seen in the Temple.” In this reading, the woman represents the ark, and the child in her womb is the “Anointed One”of God.

This woman “clothed with the sun, with the moon beneath her feet” is thought by some to be Mary, who brought forth the historical Jesus. He was certainly the presence of God in the midst of the people of his time. The woman has also been identified as the church, which brings forth the risen Christ—certainly the presence of God in the midst of the people of all times. This mysterious woman, whether she represents Mary or the church, brings Christ into the lives of others.

Paul declares that Christ is “the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” We might say that Mary is the “second fruit.” Her body was sacred because it bore the Messiah of God, Jesus the Lord. We too are called to enter into the mystery of life after death. “In Christ [we] shall all be brought to life, but each in proper order: Christ the first fruits; [Mary the second fruit;] then, at his coming, those who belong to Christ,” all those who in any way have brought Christ into the lives of others.

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