For the last three weeks we’ve been pondering the theme of Jesus as the bread of heaven, or the bread of life, as we’ve heard successive readings from the sixth chapter of John’s gospel. And next week there’s one final piece from that chapter. But this Sunday we interrupt the flow to consider Mary, the mother of Jesus, whose saint’s day falls today.  

I would contend, though, that it isn’t an interruption at all, but a very fruitful side- step to consider from a different perspective what is life-giving.  

John’s gospel can be heavy going. It was written as a deep theological meditation on the meaning of Jesus’ life, ministry and death many decades later. It doesn’t read like Matthew, Mark and Luke with their faster pace and more verbatim sayings of Jesus. It’s easy to get bogged down in its complex metaphors and long discourses.  

But today, after three weeks of John’s theology on Jesus as the one who gives us life, we have part of the story of Mary, the woman who literally gave life to Jesus by birthing him into the world. We go from John’s words about Jesus feeding us with his body and blood for eternal life, to Mary who gave him life by the shedding of her blood in the act of birth, and who fed him with her body.  

Christian faith and theology can be so very masculine, yet the core ideas of blood that gives life and a body that feeds another are profoundly feminine. Picture Mary holding Jesus as a newborn saying, “This is my body. This is my blood.” Or picture her holding his body taken down from the cross, as in Michelangelo’s beautiful and heartbreaking sculpture, the Pieta, and saying, “This is my body. This is my blood.”    

I see in Mary a window onto God our Mother, who gives us life, nourishes and teaches us, and holds us in death.  

Mary is a central figure in the Christian story, and yet Anglicans tend to be a bit reserved towards her. St Aidan’s is unusual in having a Mary statue in the church. I think Anglicans are often fearful of seeming too Roman Catholic if they focus on Mary too much. So other than in Advent and at Christmas she doesn’t get much of a look in.  

Yet in other Christian traditions she is front and centre, and she acts in many ways as a symbol of the feminine face of God. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition one of her titles is Theotokos, or Mother/Birther of God. That’s quite a title! And it’s been in use since the third century, in Syria. In the Roman Catholic tradition Mary’s sometimes called the Queen of Heaven, and she’s seen as the compassionate one who hears our humblest prayers, and prays for us.  

So Mary is both a historical figure – the teenage mother of Jesus, married to a carpenter from Nazareth, living the life of the working poor in an occupied Middle Eastern country – and she is a symbolic figure, surrounded with mythological dimensions. And here, in today’s gospel reading, Luke has given her the words we now know as the Magnificat: My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour!  

Luke is actually borrowing heavily from the first book of Samuel, written more than 500 years before, where Hannah gives praise to God for gifting her with a child, Samuel, and for lifting up the lowly and casting down the mighty. The God of Hannah and Mary notices and cares for the poor, the barren, the weak, the hungry. This God blesses the lowly, and turns upsidedown the usual ways of the world where the rich get richer, the poor are downtrodden, and the weak go to the wall.  

The God we see in the face and story of Mary is a life-giving, self-giving love that both she and her son embody. Their strength is in vulnerability, not in power and might: the vulnerability of a woman giving birth; the vulnerability of a man choosing forgiveness and non-violence and being killed.  

This is so important, so central to our faith, but Christians have frequently chosen power rather than vulnerability, control and coercion rather than invitation, high status rather than humility and servanthood. We built a Christian empire and committed the sins that are so painfully evident now, emerging from the voices of the downtrodden.  

Mary can stand as a symbol and reminder of the truly life-giving way of God, which is the way of Christ. She is humble, but not meek and mild. She is courageous and strong and full of God’s grace, which enabled her to birth the Christ into the world. She gave her blood for him, and fed him with her body. She asked questions, she answered back, she tried to protect him, she stood by him even as he died. She’s the classic Jewish mother, and the archetypal Great Mother of us all. She’s a human face of our motherly God, hidden and often unnoticed in our Bible, but hinted at with verses describing God as a woman in labour, or a nursing mother, or a parent teaching her child to walk.  

And Mary is a role model for us, as we seek to birth the Christ in us into the world.  

Like Mary we can say Yes to God, and open ourselves to God’s grace working in us.  

Like Mary who holds up her child as the light of the world, we can shine with that light in our day.  

Like Mary, we can proclaim God’s greatness and rejoice that in God’s realm the lowly are lifted up and the hungry fed.  

Mary the mother of Jesus is the mother of us all. And today we give thanks and celebrate her. Amen.