Acts 1:6-14

Hail Mary, full of grace…

In one of those not-quite coincidences of the lectionary, today’s reading from the history of the church mentions Mary’s presence among the disciples, along with “certain women”.

It’s only the briefest of mentions, easy to gloss over on the page. Except that it’s longer than the citation of any of the other disciples, including Peter. And except that, in a time when women were generally not considered worth mentioning in history, here she is, given a prominent place in the list: “Mary, the mother of Jesus.”
Luke’s specificity more than likely is meant to provide a kind of touchstone for his readers, a way to connect them to a community they knew by reputation if not in person. Still, it’s worth puzzling about: why, in a passage dedicated to the story of Jesus’ ascension into heaven, would the author close with the very earthy detail of his mother’s presence among his friends?

It points to the unique nature of Jesus, of course: fully man and fully God. His presence in heaven is rooted in his presence in the disciples, and vice versa. Mary, the theotokos or God-bearer, also has a special role in the story of salvation:

Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, says the Gospel of Luke.

This is no passive role: Mary seizes the initiative to usher in the fulfillment of God’s promises to the people. She is more than a recipient of grace; she is a full partner in the scheme of salvation, and she has earned her mention in the list of disciples.

That’s worth remembering on Mother’s Day. Mothers have long played a role in pushing the world along toward whatever peace can be wrested from it. Lysistrata led the women of Athens in their, um, unique protest against war; the women of the Paris commune stood between French and German cannons. More recently, mothers led protests against World War I and the war in Vietnam; they have been crucial in exposing the evils of lynching and “dirty wars” in Argentina and Chile.

Mother’s Day itself is rooted in pacifism? In 1870 or 72, Julia Ward Howe–author of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic”–called upon mothers everywhere to resist war:

Arise, . . . women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts . . .
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we
   have been able to teach them of charity and patience.
We, women of one country,
   will be too tender of those of another country,
   to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.
From the bosom of the devastated earth
   a voice comes up with our own.
It says, “Disarm, disarm!”
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.

Howe was influenced by a West Virginia Methodist named Ann Jarvis. In the early years of the twentieth century, Jarvis’ daughter (also Ann) succeeded in turning Mother’s Day into a national celebration. For many years, it was linked with pacifism.

Again, worth remembering on Mother’s Day, this one in particular.  How many mother’s sons and daughters have been killed in senseless violence just in Iraq just this past week? How many times have we been in the same stupid place year after year, lamenting  violence and loss?

Seems to me we could learn something from Mother Mary.

So do me a favor: give your mom a hug today, or pick up the phone and give her a call. Take her out to dinner, give her some flowers, whatever she likes best. And then, when the day is done, sit down and write a letter to your elected representatives, telling them that on this Mother’s Day, the gift you’d most like to give your mother is the gift of peace.

And don’t forget to say a prayer: Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us, sinners…

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