Lectionary 621, Gospel: Luke 1:39-56
The First Book of Chronicles is not where I usually begin my scriptural meditations or lectio divina, but it does offer some gems amid its lengthy genealogies. One such passage has been chosen by the Church to teach us about the role in the history of salvation of Mary, whose assumption into heaven we celebrate today.
We hear that David brought the Ark of the Covenant up in procession to Jerusalem, with musicians playing and rejoicing crowds teeming about on all sides. The Ark was the symbol of God’s presence in the midst of his holy people; it had been retrieved from the Philistines who had captured it some years earlier, and David sought to enshrine it properly in the holy city. David was so filled with joy over the arrival of the Ark in its proper resting place that he danced as it was brought up to Jerusalem (2 Sam 6:14-22; 1 Chron 15:29).
King David’s joy came from the fact that he recognized in the Ark and the tablets of the law which it contained a pledge of God’s abiding fidelity to the people of Israel. The Ark was the visible sign, the covenant sealed by the Decalogue (the “ten words” or “ten commandments”) etched on the tablets was invisible, yet it revealed to Israel God’s love for them as his uniquely chosen people. Through the covenant, therefore—symbolized by the Ark—the Lord revealed himself to his beloved in a tangible yet profoundly mysterious way.
Mary, who is mentioned but never seen or heard from in the brief gospel passage for the vigil of the Assumption, has often been likened to the Ark of the Covenant in Christian theology and artistry. This comparison was taken up by many early Church writers since like the Ark Mary bore within herself “the word” of God which brought about a new covenant, bringing to fulfillment the revelation of God begun with the covenant that David celebrated and the Ark symbolized. Going further, the covenant brought about by the Word which Mary so faithfully bore was not only new but everlasting and definitive—it includes Israel and reaches out beyond the chosen people to encompass all peoples and will never be exceeded.
Mary was chosen for this unique honor in the history of humanity because even prior to becoming the “Ark of the new Covenant” she was perfectly in harmony with the word of God, listening carefully for it and keeping it, as is seen beautifully in the account of the Annunciation, when Mary responds to the message of the angel Gabriel: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
Thus we can understand Jesus’ words in the gospel on the vigil of the Assumption, when he explains that Mary is not blessed because she was Jesus’ mother, rather she was chosen to be Jesus mother because she heard the word of God and kept it (Luke 11:28). The feast of the Assumption marks our belief that Mary was free from all sin throughout her entire life—she kept God’s word revealed through his covenant—and that she was indeed the bearer of the new and eternal covenant, Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh himself.
Going back to the First Book of Chronicles, we should rejoice on this day over God’s gift to the world of the Blessed Virgin Mary even more than David did over the return of the Ark, finding in her the fulfillment of what David so longed for and what we have given to us every day in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.