Rev. 11:19, 12:1-6,10; 1 Cor. 15:20-26; Psalm 45; Luke 1:39-56
We are celebrating today the Feast of the Dormition of Mary the Mother of God. That is, her death. You might ask, “Why are we celebrating death?” But we do it all the time, every Saint’s Day is the day of their death. We celebrate it because, for a Christian, death is our birth into the resurrected life of Christ. In our Intercessory Prayers we pray for a Christian and peaceful death. I have been thinking a lot about this lately; my maternal aunt, who was close to 90 years old has just died, and my mother-in-law, who is near the same age, will be going into hospice this week. I also remember my father-in-law’s death several years ago. None of these people had, or is having, a peaceful death, and whether Christian is unknown, for some. For all these people, and others I have known, the end of life brings anger, resentment, bitterness and regret. Some of this may be the result of a disease process, but some of it is not. Some of it is the consequence of how we choose to live our lives. If we want a Christian and peaceful death, we must live a Christian and peaceful life. And that is why we celebrate the death of Our Mother Mary, she died as she had lived, in obedience, faith and love. Her life and her death are an example for all Christians. If we look at the Icon on the front of the Proper Prayers we see Christ, in a mandorla, holding her pure soul in the form of a child, preparing to bear it away to paradise. Surrounding the bier are the Apostles who, according to Orthodox Tradition, were there, some brought from afar upon clouds. Peter is on the left with the censer and Paul is on the right, bowing. The only one not there is Thomas, who, arriving three days after she was placed in the tomb wanted to see Mary one last time, when the tomb was opened her body was not there, and the Apostles rejoiced in her bodily resurrection. None of this is Doctrine, but it is a very old tradition, and belief, in the Church. It is also a source of hope and inspiration for us. What Mary did, we are called to do, what Mary did, we can do.
What do we mean by a Christian and peaceful life? It does not mean a life without struggle, trouble or failure. It does not mean a life without pain, sorrow or loss. It does mean that when these things happen we bear them in grace. We accept them as gifts given to further our theosis, we respond to all our life’s circumstances with humility, patience, trust, mercy and forgiveness. We are, in our dying, who we have been in our living. If, in our life, we have been angry, harbored resentment, been manipulative and controlling, lacked self-control, indulged our passions and rejected Christ, how can we expect our death to be different? And what do we expect after we have passed through death? Our life in this world has something of the nature of a college placement exam, what we do determines where we end up. This life prepares us for the next, so how we live also prepares us for death. No Christian should fear death, or dying, no Christian should fear life, or living. In truth the only thing that Christians should fear is anything that can separate us from the love of God in Christ. And pretty much the only thing that can do that is ourselves.
Being a Christian is hard work, it is not for the faint-hearted, or the lazy, or the uncommitted. Living a Christian life in this fallen world takes everything we are and have. Every Christian who has ever lived, and died, has faced the same struggles, the same world. And that is why we celebrate their deaths, their graduation day, their birthday into their true life with Christ in the fullness of the Kingdom. And we look forward to our own, not with fear, but with hope and trust. If we want a Christian and peaceful death, a death like that of Our Blessed Mother, surrounded by loving family and friends, in the fellowship of the Church, ready to go with Our Lord, then we have to lay the foundation now. We do not know, any of us, when we may be called, so we cannot let another day go by without dedicating ourselves to a truly Christian life, a truly peaceful life – a life worthy of a child of God and a child of Mary.
Let us pray: Hail Mary, full of grace! The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death.
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