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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Call her blessed

Lutherans, too, can remember Mary’s gracious ‘yes’

It is August. In the Northern Hemisphere it is the season of harvest: wheat and corn, persimmons and grapes, jujubes and apples and peaches. Roadside ditches bloom with foxtail and blanket flower. And in this season of harvest is the festival day of Mary, Mother of Our Lord: Aug. 15, a day dedicated to her for at least 1,400 years.

Author Gertrud Mueller Nelson, in To Dance With God (Paulist Press, 1986)recalls “walking with my mother and sisters along the river banks, collecting every variety of grass seed … from pinks to sage …” to gather into large bouquets for the festival of Mary. “Blessed are you among women,” cried out Mary’s kinswoman Elizabeth, “and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” 

Fruitfulness and harvest. Mary is the example of what magnificence can occur in the world if we are willing to say “yes” to the request of God, if we are willing to cooperate with the divine and participate in the ongoing fulfillment of God’s creation.

A 20th-century hymn sings: Mary the root, Christ the mystic vine; Mary the grape, Christ the sacred wine! Mary the wheat sheaf, Christ the living bread; Mary the rose tree, Christ the rose blood-red ... (Justin Mulcahy, C.P.).

Fruitfulness and harvest. The first reading for this festival day is from Isaiah (61:7-11). “For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations” (11).

Mary is not the exception, not an unreachable apex of humanity, but the example of what can spring up if we, in our human freedom, say “yes” to God. As Benedictine nun and author Joan Chittister writes: “By her unconditional fiat, she became the perfect recipient of God’s will that each of us would like to be.”

The Lutheran church still joins with Mary in singing her great outpouring of praise, the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), in evening prayer and in every Advent season. But over the last centuries in Protestant churches, Mary has often been relegated to more of a footnote than an example of righteous faith. Martin Luther called Mary the “Queen of Heaven” and “Mother of God” (Theotokos) and advocated praying the first half of the Ave Maria.

In his commentary on the Magnificat (1520), Luther prayed: “May the tender Mother of God herself procure for me the spirit of wisdom, profitably and thoroughly to expound this song of hers.” And yet by 2004, church historian and theologian Jaroslav Pelikan felt compelled to write an essay, “Most Generations Shall Call Me Blessed.”


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