Tuesday, May 01, 2007

May Day!

I wonder what the phrase May Day does for you? Does it remind you of Red Square, and the parades of terrifying nuclear hardware that used to haunt our childhoods? Does it speak of holidays, of Maypoles? The promise of summer? Dark rumours of pagan celebrations?

In the Anglican Church May Day is the Feast of St Philip and St James, the Apostles; in the Roman Catholic calendar the day belongs to St Joseph the Worker, a celebration instituted in 1955 by Pope Pius XII.

Traditionally though, in the Roman Catholic church this month is associated with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and in many places statues of the Blessed Virgin are crowned with flowers, mayflowers if possible, and the whole month is dedicated to her.

I'm sensitive to the fact that some of my brothers and sisters at the more evangelical end of the spectrum could be feeling uncomfortable at this point, remembering that in the ancient Celtic calendar this is the feast of Beltane, the beginning of the pastoral summer season when the herds of livestock were led out to the summer pastures and mountain grazing lands, and so might be worrying about syncretism, Mariolatry, and other nightmares.

But think again. Mary is most certainly the Mother of Jesus; and in her own words, all generations will call her blessed. (Luke 1:48) What a charming custom to commemorate the utterly astonishing courage and faithfulness of a barely teenage girl who stood before the Angel of the Lord, in the face of surely the most terrifying promise ever heard, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God..." and said, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word." (Luke 1:35,38) The very words cause the hair on the back of my neck to stand up.

Jesus is, as the Creeds testify, "true God of true God" and Mary is his Mother. Don't we, at the very least, owe her our great affection, our most profound gratitude - for through her faithfulness our Saviour came rescue us from sin - and yes, our awe, that here was a young girl who willingly put herself and all her future into the hands of the living God, whose body was the earthly vessel that for nine long months carried the Son of God, and whose arms held him in all the humble fragility in which he'd been born?

"Mayday Mayday Mayday" is the distress call on VHF Channel 16 of vessels in "grave and imminent danger" at sea. It could well stand for the cry of fallen humanity, of the whole stricken Creation. This May Day, let us celebrate the one who stood before her Maker's angel, and by her submission answered that call, so that our Good Shepherd might lead us out by the path of the Cross to the green pastures of our new life in him.

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