Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Priesthood of Mary, and the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple

You may not know this, but this past Tuesday, February 2, was a major feast day of the Church: The Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple. The Rev. Dr. Ann Willms, associate rector, preached a terrific homily at our regular 12:15 pm Tuesday Eucharist, and it is well worth reading.

As long as we are on the topic, please let me urge you to come on a Tuesday if you are in the area; it is a short, contemplative Eucharist, and there is time left over for lunch; think of it as a sabbath in your week.

Ann's homily is below, and the readings that go with it are Malachi 3:1-4 , Hebrews 2:14-18 , Luke 2:22-40

The Priesthood of Mary
We have been basking in the light of our visit from the Presiding Bishop, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori. But today offers us a feast day in which to recognize another shining light: the Mother of Our Lord.

Let us put today’s gospel in context. The infant Jesus, in accordance with Jewish law, was circumcised and named eight days after his birth. Following the birth of a child, women were to refrain from conjugal relations for seven days. They were then restricted from entering holy places or touching sacred objects for 33 days (if the child was male) or 66 days (if the child was female). Since blood was synonymous with life force, any loss of blood was seen as symbolic of death and held the aura of uncleanness. Time and ritual allowed the uncleanness to dissipate and life force to be restored to its proper place. (Leviticus 12)

At the end of this time period, Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the Temple to present him as their firstborn son, dedicated as holy to the Lord, again in keeping with the law. In conjunction with the presentation, Mary was reintegrated into the Jewish societal structure after her period of purification by bringing an offering of a pigeon or turtledoves. This had nothing to do with purification from sin, as conception and birth held no such taint.

In the Malachi reading for today, we hear that God will come to his Temple suddenly, and that there will come a time when the priests’ offerings are made in righteousness. In Hebrews, we hear that Jesus himself becomes the pure offering, the “once for all” atoning sacrifice which allows us to appear righteous before God.
I would like to suggest that Mary, his mother, is the “priest” who presents Jesus to God as this perfect offering, an offering borne in and from her own flesh. Unlike the priests of the levitical line who were such by tribal lineage, Mary has chosen to align her life with God’s purpose and become the priest who will bear Jesus in her own body. Her “ordination” occurred with the annunciation – her whole person was set aside as holy by the power of the Holy Spirit, so that she might be the Theotokos – the God-bearer.

Being a levitical priest entailed sacrificing animals with a knife – being a priest of the flesh like Mary entails that “a sword will pierce your own soul also.” Bearing Jesus to the world, presenting him as the priests that we are will indeed entail a sword – some will hear, some will scoff, some will accept, many will reject him. But we are priests and so we keep bearing him, the Incarnate Word, the one true offering we can make, to the world.

Mary as priest brings Jesus to the world. Jesus our great high priest will present us before God, clothed in righteousness. In the meantime, our priestly vocation is to bear, to “present” Jesus to the world, to incarnate him in our own flesh, and to be ready for the sword that will pierce our own soul for sorrow and for joy.

Ann Willms

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