Sermon for Evensong & Benediction (First of the Annunciation) Sunday 8 April 2018
Eve of the Annunciation, 2018
A priest friend of mine posted something on Facebook last week:
“The angel of the Lord brought tidings to Mary…Oh, drat! –
“Joy to thee, O Queen of heaven….”
He has been caught out by the arrival of Easter when the Angelus is replaced by the Regina Caeli.
Those who are regular worshippers here will be familiar with them both. For most of the year, our bells ring out three times a day as we say the versicles and responses and Hail Marys and the concluding Collect – which was sung this evening because it is the Collect for the Feast of the Annunciation.
That feast, as most of you will know, usually falls, with gynaecological exactitude, on the 25th of March – nine months to the day before Christmas. However, this year that day was Palm Sunday, and so the feast was transferred to the first available day after Holy Week and the Easter Octave – that is tomorrow. As a major feast of Our Lord it has a first Evensong which we are keeping this evening.
This is an unexpected act of solidarity with Fr. Gerald and our friends at the Annunciation. The Annunciation has had major building problems with plaster falling dangerously from the upper reaches. The church building has had to be closed for the present and Fr. Gerald and his people are worshipping in the undercroft – something of a challenge at the best of times and even more when you have a Sunday School of over 100.
But let me return to the Collect for the feast – one which many of us will be able to recite from memory – especially if the Angelus forms part of our daily devotions.
It is a prayer which encompasses in a short space the whole of Christ’s life and work – from Incarnation through his cross and passion to the resurrection.
In both the Gospel at Mass today we heard Thomas saying, “Unless I put my finger in the marks of the nails and my hand in his side….”
In the various resurrection accounts, there is an emphasis on the physical body of the risen Christ. He may be glorified, able to remain unrecognised and to pass through locked doors, but he still bears the marks of crucifixion. The body of the Word made flesh has not been abandoned; the incarnation has not been cancelled in favour of the spiritual.
The resurrection does not cancel out the reality of Christ’s humanity; the incarnation was no temporary expedient; Christ took our flesh upon him, as an old prayer puts it: “as never more to lay it aside.” The resurrection is the glorification of that flesh, it’s transformation, it’s taking into the life of God, it’s participation in the divine. Christ shared our human life that we might share his divine life.
In the feast of the Annunciation we celebrate the beginning of that union between the divine and the human, the Creator and the creation, the spiritual and the material in the incarnation.
In that prayer we ask God to pour into our hearts the same grace which filled the life of Mary for her part in our salvation; the grace which prepared her to make that response of faith to the message of the angel and to be the Theotokos – the God-bearer.
That collect speaks too, aptly in this Easter season, of the glory of Christ’s resurrection: a glory we are enabled to share by that grace and through the cross and passion which are integral to that incarnation.
That cross and passion is no external legal transaction but a living reality of obedience to the will of God into which we are drawn as Mary was drawn in saying her “Be it unto me according to thy word.”
In our lives there are many annunciations in which God comes and speaks to us through various messengers and asks us to be the ones in whom he is made present in this world.
This is important for the kind of religion we practice.
Is our faith one which regards creation, the material, the physical, the flesh, and all that we do in it – eating and drinking, buying and selling, relationships in family, community, politics, work, as inferior and unspiritual – as things which we must leave behind, emancipate ourselves from – if we are to make spiritual progress – or are these things which are to be included in that transformation, that sanctification, the transfiguration, which the Incarnation and Resurrection are all about?
The faith of scripture and creed and sacrament and of this feast tells us that they are the latter. A The Angelus is a daily reminder of that truth. So too, and even more so, does the sacrament of the Eucharist in which Christ takes bread and wine – gifts of God and the work of human hands – to be the means of grace – the vehicles of his presence and of our transformation.
Although we often try to make it so, Christianity is not escapist, other-worldly religion but a realist faith in a Christ whose risen body bears the marks of his cross.