THE COLLECT OF THE DAY
We beseech you, O Lord, pour your grace into our hearts, that as we have known the incarnation of your Son Jesus Christ by the message of an angel, so by his cross and passion we may be brought to the glory of his resurrection; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
THE FIRST READING 1 Samuel 3.3-10
The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ and he said, ‘Here I am!’ and ran to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call; lie down again.’ So he went and lay down. The Lord called again, ‘Samuel!’ Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call, my son; lie down again.’ Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, ‘Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” ’ So Samuel went and lay down in his place. Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ And Samuel said, ‘Speak, for your servant is listening.’
THE GOSPEL Luke 1.26-38
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.’ Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.
THE POST COMMUNION PRAYER
God most high, whose handmaid bore the Word made flesh: we thank you that in this sacrament of our redemption you visit us with your Holy Spirit
and overshadow us by your power; strengthen us to walk with Mary the joyful path of obedience and so to bring forth the fruits of holiness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
A sermon by Mark Phythian-Adams
We are celebrating the Feast of the Annunciation at a moment of severe crisis with the deaths of many people as the coronavirus pandemic sweeps the world. But this Feast is a message of hope and re-creation at the moment in the year when the natural world is bursting into life after the winter. It can also provide us with pointers in our lifelong task to understand and accept ourselves for what we are and thereby come closer to God.
Celebration of the Annunciation in the Anglican Church is surprisingly muted compared to that of Christmas, Good Friday or Easter, in stark contrast to the significance accorded to the Annunciation in much of the Church’s history.
By the third century it was considered that both Creation and the Crucifixion, occurred on the same date. In the western church, this was the 25thMarch. Somewhat later, St Augustine was to write that Christ “is believed to have been conceived on the 25th March, on which day he also suffered…”
God’s plan for the salvation of mankind began with the Incarnation and was completed at the Crucifixion. The “new creation”, as in 2 Corinthians 5.17, began on the Spring Equinox. The 25thMarch as the date of the Feast of the Annunciation was finally determined in the mid sixth century.
Whatever our views of the historicity of the details of the Lukan story, or the early church’s beliefs regarding the 25thMarch, it is a prerequisite of our salvation that God so loved the world that he became man through the agency of Mary, the Theotokos or “God Bearer”. St Augustine again … “so the womb of the Virgin, in which He was conceived, … corresponds to the new grave in which He was buried.”
Christ’s body and blood, which we receive spiritually in the Eucharist, came from his mother Mary. And when we are baptised in the font, the womb of the Church, we are buried and are reborn through her, as our spiritual mother – “Mother Church”. Since at least St Ambrose in the fourth century, Mary has been recognized as a type or figure of the church.
A shorthand visual representation of the Plan of Salvation is to be found in niello images on the underside of the lid of a beautifully enameled 9th century reliquary of the True Cross.
The physical birth is diagonally across from the bodily death of Jesus Christ on the cross. The spiritual incarnation is diagonally across from Christ’s Descent into Hell, the usual image for the Resurrection at the time. Christ, the second Adam, born of the second Eve, Mary, thereby redeems the first Adam and the first Eve, who represent all of us. A link between the Annunciation and the Crucifixion is also to be found in the Anglo-Saxon poem, the Dream of the Rood, in part of which the Cross describes itself as trembling at the embrace of its Lord, just as Mary trembled at the Annunciation.
The Collect at this service is a reflection, albeit rather faint, of this fundamental doctrine of the church.
But there is nothing faint in the Akathistos hymn to Mary, which has been sung in celebration of the Annunciation from probably as early as the 5thcentury and is today sung in the Orthodox Church on the five Fridays of Lent before Holy Week, emphasising the link between the Annunciation and the Crucifixion.
The opening verse includes:
“Rejoice, you through whom joy shall shine forth.
Rejoice, the Restoration of fallen Adam.
Rejoice, the Redemption of the tears of Eve.
Rejoice, for you are the King’s throne.
Rejoice, you bear Him, Who bears the universe.
Rejoice, O Womb of divine Incarnation.
Rejoice, you through whom creation is renewed.
Rejoice, you through whom the Creator is born a Babe.
Rejoice, O Bride Ever-Virgin.”
But Mary is also a role model for all of us. She had not only to hear the message from the Archangel Gabriel but also give her consent – “… let it be with me according to your word”. The importance of the moral agency of Mary was emphasised especially by St Bernard of Clairvaux.
In the words of the Post Communion Prayer, we ask for strength “to walk with Mary the joyful path of obedience.” This obedience has been compared with the disobedience of Eve since Irenaeus in the second century.
We all know how difficult it can be to prepare ourselves to hear the Word, though for us at Iffley, every time we enter the church, it might help to call to mind the images on the West doorway; the Annunciation of the Word with the dove of the Holy Spirit hovering over us, the evangelist symbols and the Angel of the Lord. “Let him kiss me with the kiss of his mouth’, in the words of the Song of Songs.
Albeit that the stories in the Apocryphal Gospel about the Annunciation are just that – stories, nevertheless the Church through the centuries has held them in high regard. The author evidently believed that two annunciations were required, the first being at a fountain or well, signifying the baptismal waters of eternal life, where Gabriel so to speak prepares Mary. Even for Mary, then, the writer considered that the Word needed to be delivered as it were in instalments.
But more significantly, the angel’s first message is a signpost for us:
“Blessed are you, Mary, because you have prepared the Lord’s dwelling in your mind…”
The reading we had for Ash Wednesday from Isaiah 58 is also a pointer –
“Why do we fast but you do not see? …Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight… Such fasting will not make your voice heard……Is not this the fast that I choose, to loose the bonds of injustice, ..to share your bread with the hungry …..
Then you shall call and the Lord will answer.
Finally, in the first reading from 1 Samuel 3, Samuel heard God calling but initially thought it must be Eli.
Let us pray for Andrew, Nikolaj, Graham and David as our spiritual guides, just as Eli was for Samuel, and that we may all prepare the Lord’s dwelling in our minds, so that with Samuel we can hear God’s voice and say
“Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”