Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Ark and the Assumption

Readings for Sunday, August 15, the Solemnity of the Assumption:
Revelation 11:19; 121-6,10
Psalm 45:10-12,16
1 Corinthians 15:20-27
Luke 1:39-56

Today the Church celebrates the mystery of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s Assumption; that is to say that we honor the day when she was taken, body and soul, into Heaven. As we celebrate this great mystery though, it seems odd that our first reading speaks of the Ark of the Covenant and a heavenly vision and the Gospel recounts Mary’s visit to Elizabeth. It is only the letter of Saint Paul that speaks of resurrection. Why is this? Why not tell a story of the life to come or of the resurrection? When things like this happen, when something just doesn’t make sense right off hand, it is usually a sign that something much deeper is present and waiting to be revealed. In the scriptures we often coast along and think we know the point of all the stories, but often there are little details that seem inconsequential and unnecessary. Those little details are often the key to unlocking the depth of a passage. So why talk about the Visitation and Ark on the solemnity of the Assumption?

First, we need to understand what the Ark of the Covenant is. When we hear the word “ark” most of us think of the story of Noah and the flood, but this is now the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark of the Covenant was the dwelling place of God. It was a large box that was made of a strong wood and plated in gold and in it were contained three things: a jar of the Manna that sustained the Israelites during the Exodus, it held the two tablets of the Ten Commandments, and it held the rod of Aaron the high priest, which was a sign of divine authority.

Luke the evangelist, though he was not a Jew, surely knew about the Ark of the Covenant and through his interactions with the Blessed Virgin Mary came to understand that she was in fact the New Ark of the Covenant. He conveys this to us by a bunch of seemingly insignificant words that link to the 2nd book of Samuel in the Old Testament. 2nd Samuel tells us that King David got up and went to the place where the Ark was and Luke uses the same wording for Mary visit to Elizabeth. David came into the presence of the Ark and was totally in awe, and we hear Elizabeth’s response “How does this happen to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” She was in awe because she knew she was in the presence of God. The Second book of Chronicles tells us that psalms and hymns are chanted before the Ark. The word used for those hymns was used only 5 times in the Old Testament, each time in reference to hymns sung before the Ark of the Covenant. That exact word is used only one time in the New Testament and it is used to described Elizabeth’s crying out in a loud voice as Mary came into her presence. David leaped with joy in the presence of the Lord in the Ark, which held the manna, tablets and rod of Aaron. John the Baptist leaped in Elizabeth’s womb in the presence of the New Ark, who held in her womb the Bread of Life, the Fulfillment of the Old Testament Law, and the True High Priest. And finally, David stayed in the presence of the Ark for 3 months before bringing it into the city of Jerusalem. And what is the last line of our gospel reading? “Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.” There’s no other reason to mention that fact than to indicate through small indicators that Mary is the New Ark of the Covenant.

So we come again to the question: why talk about the Ark on the Assumption? What is the connection between the Ark and the Assumption? The Ark was incorruptible. It was made of the strongest wood the Israelites knew about and was plated in Gold; it was never destroyed or broken down but rather the scriptures tell us that it was buried and never found again. And 2 Maccabees goes further saying that the Ark would not be found until God once again gathered His people to show them His mercy. When Christ was incarnated in the womb of Mary, the world was shown the mercy of God and the location of the Ark was known and was revealed in the person of Mary. This is the key that unlocks the whole mystery. Like the ancient Ark of the Covenant, Mary, too, was incorruptible and at the end of her earthly life, she was lifted up into Heaven to be with her Son. We know this because it has been a belief of the Church since the earliest days and also because nobody has ever claimed to have the body of Mary or to say “this is tomb where the Blessed Mother is buried.” We have no relics of her because unlike the rest of us, she received a special grace to enter into Heaven with body and soul immediately. And because of this she stands as a sign of hope.

Already in Heaven, she is perpetually interceding on our behalf to her Son Jesus and is a sign of hope in the promise of our future resurrection. Let us then join with Mary and pray that on the Last Day, when we are raised up, we will join her and all the saints in praising the Lord in Heaven forever.