“Mother Mary in the Gap”
by Fr. Guillermo A. Arboleda
A Sermon for Easter 7B (and Mother's Day)
12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. 13 When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of[c] James. 14 All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.
15 In those days Peter stood up among the believers[d] (together the crowd numbered about one hundred twenty persons) and said, 16 “Friends,[e] the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus— 17 for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” ...
21 So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.” 23 So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. 24 Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen 25 to take the place[g] in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” 26 And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.
This morning, we continue the story in Acts that began on Ascension Day. The feast of the Ascension was on Thursday. On it we remember that forty days after Easter, Jesus was taken up into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father. You may remember that the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit fell on the disciples and they began their active ministry of preaching and evangelism, happened fifty days after Easter. So this morning we pick up with the disciples in an in-between time. Jesus Christ has risen and is now ascended, but the Holy Spirit isn’t among them yet.
A gap like this is a call to something new. The way things were was never permanent. The disciples who saw Jesus ascend into heaven seemed to be surprised. Despite Jesus’ warnings and teachings, they didn’t see this coming. Sometimes, transitions are unexpected, but God is present and at work in the midst of them. When life changes, it’s a signal that God is calling you to something new.
The disciples have experienced the renewal 40 days with the Risen Jesus. They were refreshed and encouraged by his presence with them. But now they sense that God is sending them to a new phase of ministry. Now they must be about the work of restoring the Twelve Apostles. They ordain Matthias to succeed Judas Iscariot, the betrayer of Jesus. They need another partner in the ministry to carry out the work Jesus called them and will empower them to do.
Ascension marks a shift from Renewal to Apostolate. Apostle and Apostolate mean “sent one.” To do ministry in the world is to be sent by God and empowered by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit does both. Right now we stand in the gap, having waved goodbye to Jesus on Ascension Thursday but still waiting for the arrival of the Holy Spirit ten days later on Pentecost Sunday. So the mini-season of Ascensiontide is a time for shifting away from ourselves and out toward the world. It’s a time to listen for what God is calling us into and where God is sending us.
At the center of the shift from the renewal of Easter to the apostolate of Pentecost is St. Mary, the mother of Jesus. Acts 1:14 says that Mary and Jesus’ brothers were with the apostles in Jerusalem devoting themselves to prayer. She was a spiritual leader among the Twelve Apostles, who would become the first Twelve Bishops of the Church.
From very early on in church history, Christian art that depicts the Ascension or Pentecost always had St. Mary at the center of the image, traditionally wearing blue and/or red and holding her hands up in prayer, right beneath Jesus as he ascends into the sky or underneath the falling dove of the Holy Spirit. She is the last one to say goodbye to Jesus before his departure and the first one to receive the Spirit on Pentecost. Just go ahead and Google “Ascension Icon” and you’ll see many examples.
Mary, however, had a long, arduous journey toward this position of leadership. This journey was filled with many unexpected twists and turns. Along the way, there were transitions she didn’t expect and didn’t want. But in her faithfulness, Mary was able to receive each of these changes as a call from God to further ministry. She recognized that God was sending her into new frontiers.
Remember that Mary was chosen to be the Virgin Mother of our Lord while she was still engaged to be married. Her pregnancy caused a huge scandal in her community and almost cost her her marriage to Joseph. But the Angel Gabriel visited both Mary and Joseph and smoothed out that tension. And Mary’s famous response to the call of God to serve in this way was, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
As Jesus grew up, there were times when he didn’t behave like the ideal son. When he was twelve years old, he abandoned the family in Jerusalem to go learn from the teachers in the Temple. And despite her fear about Jesus’ wellbeing, they welcomed him back home. And the Scripture says, “Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart” (Luke 1:51). Again, Mary saw changes and trials as a call to greater faithfulness.
As an adult, Jesus began his ministry and left home to be a traveling preacher. His message of the love and grace of the Kingdom of God offended the lawyers, scribes, and Pharisees, and got him in trouble almost everywhere he went. Mary was so concerned about him that she tried to stop him and bring him home to Nazareth, but Jesus replies painfully, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” (Matt 12:48). The Bible doesn’t tell us for sure, but perhaps this was a turning point in Mary’s life. Maybe this is when she stopped resisting Jesus’ message and became a disciple herself. She would need that faith in God to survive what was next.
Some time later, Mary watched powerlessly as her firstborn son was arrested, tortured, and incarcerated. Mary stood by faithfully and sorrowfully as she watched her child sentenced to death and executed by the state for a crime he did not commit. Mary is a saint for a lot of reasons, but she stands at the center of the early church as a mother who knows how unfair and painful life can be for mothers.
Nevertheless, she persisted. St. Mary stayed faithful to the way of her son Jesus, the Messiah, the Christ. She believed that God would work miracles through this child who came about through a Virgin birth, announced by an angel so many years ago. Mary continued to gather and pray and mentor the fearful disciples. She comforted Peter after he denied Jesus. She was in the upper room when the Risen Jesus appeared to them. And again, she communed with Jesus right before he was taken away from them on Ascension Day.
Mother Mary is an example and encouragement to all mothers. Not because she was a virgin mother; that was a one-time only miracle. No, Mary is important because she shows us the spiritual virtue of courage and persistence. She demonstrates that even when things are painful or just uncertain, we can trust God to be faithful and by grace, we can be faithful. Mary shows us that after being renewed in times of peace and quiet, here is a call in the chaos.
Jesus said, “As you [Father] have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” (John 17:18). Just as God called and sent Mary, God calls and sends us. God calls us to continue the work of Christ here and now, and sends us into our mission field in Savannah, GA. Like St. Mary, we are sent to bear the Good News of the love of God in Christ, knowing that love will overcome evil in all times and all places.
Image Credit: https://aidanharticons.com/ascension/