A tribute to the life and work of Brian Torode
Today we celebrate the major festival that the church identifies in the life of Jesus’s Mother, Mary. The Catholic Church gives it the title – the Assumption of our Lady, the Orthodox Church the Dormition of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the Church of England, the Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary .
Now theologians have argued ever since the time of Jesus about what happened to his mother after his death. Very little is told about her in the Gospels and the last definite reference to her is in the description in Acts, of the days after the Ascension when we are told that the Apostles devoted themselves to prayer of Pentecost together with Mary the mother of Jesus and the other women. Thereafter, no further mention is made of her.
For centuries, the question has arisen – What happened to Mary? how and where did she die? and, in what are called Apocryphal Gospels, we find answers to these questions, but answers that have not been accepted as doctrinal by the church- answers that give possibilities but for which there is no evidence.
And that is the crux of the whole mystery that we are celebrating today.
Mary was with Jesus from the very beginning of his coming and stayed with him to the end. He was there at all the joyful and most sorrowful moments of his life from stable to tomb – fulfilling the role of any mother who loved her child in sickness and in health, in sorrow and in joy.
After Jesus death and resurrection and ascension, the early church – the Apostles first of all – focused quite naturally on the unique event that brought about the salvation of the world – the death and resurrection and Ascension of Jesus.
Mary wasn’t intentionally overlooked , she wasn’t bypassed, but, as she did when Jesus was alive so she did after his death, she kept in the background and pointed to Jesus – repeating the words used at the marriage at Cana, ‘do as he tells you’. She emphasised the role of her son, she stayed in the shadows and as the apostolic band moved away from the Holy Land and began its mission of evangelisation, as people like Paul and Barnabas and Bartholomew spread the good news of Jesus. It is sad but perhaps a reality, that Mary retired from the scene and left the mission of the church to the Apostles and their descendants. When the time for the end of her life came, who was there to record it? Word of mouth may have passed on the details of how she departed this life, and those details may be what is recorded in some of the apocryphal Gospels written at least a century after the death of Jesus and the Apostles and based on handed down word of mouth and gaining popularity form the 4th century, that she did not die but was taken up into heaven.
BUT since those days the church has debated, discussed, argued over what happened to Mary and the conclusion reached in 1950 by the Catholic Church was defined as something to be believed that Mary did not die and lie corrupting in the grave but was taken body and soul into heaven. The Orthodox Church celebrates today as a memorial of her death, the Church of England sits on the Fence and celebrates today as a Feast day in honour of the Virgin Mary adding that if no other feast of Mary is celebrated during the year, then today is the one that is of most importance. Whichever way you see our celebration today – Mary’s Assumption, her falling asleep or just thanksgiving for her life, let us rejoice in all that she did in bringing to us the Messiah, the Saviour, the Son of God.