As Mary takes her last few breaths,
an entire lifespan returns to her.
She remembers that journey
from Nazareth to Bethlehem.
The uncertainty she felt.
Whether Joseph would follow through
on his promise to marry her
after he encountered his relatives
in their ancestral home.
Or if he’d abandon her
and their newborn son.

She recalls the visit
of the magi from afar
following a star.
And the escape to Egypt
fleeing the feckless terror
of an impetuous king.
And that warm reception
by elder Simeon and Anna at the Temple.
An unexpected sanctuary for this
unlikely young couple’s oddly-born child.

She ponders a friend’s wedding
where the festive drink ran out.
Her concern for the guests.
And the help her son offered the chief steward.
Her heart turns further still toward that same son
crucified on a cross by the Roman army.
And in his own final few breaths
asking her to help his beloved friend.
And more.
Help those others who wept there.
Help the disciples afraid for their own lives.
Help all those who endure life on the margins,
suffer hatred and cruelty,
long for daily bread.
Help so many.
Countless many.

When the Angel Gabriel
announced to her:
“Favored one,
the Lord is with you.
You shall bear a child.”
Who would have thought
the responsibly of motherhood
care for him—
would turn to care for those
for whom he cared.
Yet, as she ponders her lifespan
as she takes her own last breath,
she is certain she’d have it
no other way.

Most of the saints
the church commemorates
on the days of their death
have harrowing ends.
But not Mary.
We have no such story for Mary
in the Bible or in any other literature.
As she takes her last breath
she is thought to have been surrounded
by the Apostles and others.
Those she loved.
As her son had loved.

Why, o why, does she love in this way?
How, o how, does she love in this way?
Ask any mother.
Ask especially a single parent.
Or a person who has become guardian
for one or more.
Ask the mothers of black children
who have conversations
with their sons and daughters
no white mothers need have.
Ask the families who bravely
carry their children out of war zones.
Or across borders.
Ask the families shut up in their homes
for fear of ICE.
Ask anyone and everyone
who has put another before themselves.

Why they do it.
How they do it.
Has but one answer:
A profound, self-less
Mary first experienced this sort of compassion
from her cousin, Elizabeth.
while anyone else
would have pushed this unwed, pregnant,
Mary away,
embraces her
and calls her blessed.
“Blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb.

It is Elizabeth
who first calls the sort of love Mary would
extend to others
Not some Christian perfection blessed.
Not some race or religion blessed.
Not some success blessed.
But compassion.
And mercy.
And solidarity.
And accompaniment.
And the shattering of privilege.
And struggle for justice.

This is the sort of blessedness
Mary in turn sings,
“My soul proclaims
the greatness of the Lord.”
It is this sort of blessedness
the church across time and space
has called great.
It is this sort of blessedness
Mary, as she took her last breath,
knew that she had lived.

When, on this day,
we celebrate Mary, Mother of God.
We celebrate, we honor all the ones.
Who have lived faithful lives similarly.
Our own parents and grandparents.
That aunt or cousin
who received us as her own.
That friend of a friend
who did the same.
We celebrate
the courage of accompaniment.
And those who endure hardship.
We celebrate the communities
that are Sanctuary.
And those who need it.
None of it easy.
All of it blessed.

Blessed Rosa,
“The greatness of the Lord.”
Blessed Martin,
and Ruby
and Clementa,
“The greatness of the Lord.”
Blessed Ravi,
and Fabian,
and Juan Carlos,
and Beatriz,
“The greatness of the Lord.”
Blessed Dave and Marissa,
and Barbara,
and Mary,
all who accompany
and circle in prayer
around Federal Plaza,
“The greatness of the Lord.”
None of us gets through
life on our own merit.
But only on
the greatness of the Lord.
The saints who have gone before us,
those among us,
and those who come after us.

And this day,
this day perhaps
more than any other day,
we celebrate.
We honor.
We give thanks.
We commit ourselves to
nothing other than
“the greatness of the Lord.”
Which is why we gather
here at table.
Gather for the body of Christ,
we say.
The body of Christ placed in our hands.
The body of Christ taken in us.
Gather for and as
the body of Christ,
formed by us.

The body of Christ,
which turns in compassion,
to those in need.
The body of Christ,
standing up against
hatred, violence,
pure evil.
The body of Christ,
saying to all:
“Come to me,
all you that are weary
and are carrying heavy burdens,
and I will give you rest.”
The body of Christ,
blessed and broken for you

Come to this table,
dear sisters and brothers.
Be and become
the body of Christ.
And like Mary,
to your very last breath,
bear nothing other than
“the greatness of the Lord”
with boldness
to this broken world.

Jared R. Stahler
Saint Peter’s Church
In the City of New York

August 13, 2017

Isaiah 61:7-11
Psalm 34:1-9
Galatians 4:4-7
Saint Luke 1:46-55