On 15th August, Indian Christians celebrate two significant events : the Assumption of Mary and Independence Day. Both these events celebrate the victory of freedom and fullness of life.
As we shall see, all the readings chosen for today have a dimension of the battle between the forces of good and evil. The mythic narratives of cosmic struggles in the Bible are used to win the loyalties of the readers to the side of good and to wean them away from evil. All the readings conclude with the victory of life.
(I) Apocalypse 11:19-12:6.10 - the fight between the woman and the dragon
The story begins when the author (traditionally known as John) sees a sign emerging in heaven. John sees a figure of a woman, who is clothed with the sun and has the moon under her feet. The twelve stars around her head form a crown, which is the symbol of victory and leadership (see Rev 4:4, 10). She is about to give birth to a child who is “to rule all the nations with a rod of iron” (12:5) [a description taken from Psalm 2, which speaks of the Messiah. The Greek version of Psalm 2 says that the messiah will rule or literally shepherd the nations with his iron rod (2:9)]. As John continues to look at the heavens, a fiery monster appears among the stars. In John’s vision, the dragon has seven heads and ten horns. The reason for the dragon’s hatred of the woman and her child is not stated, but it is evident in its appearance : the seven diadems on the dragon’s head indicate that it aspires to reign. So the woman (who wears a crown of stars) and the child (who is to rule) are the dragon’s rivals and he must destroy them. The dragon threatens the child (Christ), but in the end it is Christ and not the dragon that ends up on the throne. That the child was “snatched away and taken to God and to his throne” (12:5) signifies the exaltation of the risen Jesus to the right hand of God. This image threatens the opponents of God but encourages or consoles the suffering/persecuted people of God. The story ends with the escape of the woman from the dragon.
The woman in labour is both a symbol of Mary and the Church ; the child represents both Christ and the persecuted Christians. The dragon represents the forces that oppose Christ and threaten his church. The vision announces that the suffering Christians (although they suffer a tremendous defeat in the eyes of the world) are triumphant because they share in the victory of the crucified and risen Lamb. The final victory belongs to God and to those who endure suffering and remain faithful to the covenant relationship with God and with one another.
(II) 1Corinthians 15:20-26 - Christ defeats sin and death
Paul presents Jesus’ resurrection as the assurance and the most powerful symbol of God’s final victory over sin and death. Paul alludes to a final battle, a typical feature of end-time apocalyptic eschatology. In this final battle between God and the oppressive powers of this world - “every rule, every authority and power” (15:24), God defeats the enemies. Paul identifies the last enemy of God/Christ as death (15:26), which is the consequence of sin. Paul understands sin not so much as wrong action but as a power that takes control of one’s life and entices one away from one’s proper dependence upon God. Sin thus stands in opposition to faith, which, for Paul, refers to the right relation of humans to God. Paul assures the Christians at Corinth of the resurrection of the dead and the fullness of life because the risen Christ has already defeated sin and death.
(III) Luke 1:39-56 - Mary’s Magnificat (rich/powerful versus poor/powerless)
In the Gospel of Luke, we have the Magnificat of Mary who has attained total liberation from sin and death. As I wrote in one of my recent articles, Mary’s song stands in the great tradition initiated by the victory songs of Moses, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, David and Judith and has its ultimate precedent in the deliverance of God’s people. Mary’s hymn brings about a radical reversal of order in different spheres of our life, socio- economic and political. Mary’s song of praise reveals a God who intervenes to reverse the established order by scattering the proud, by overthrowing the powerful and by sending the rich away empty handed. She announces that God “looked upon the humble state of God’s servant” (1:48). Mary begins with what God has done for her (1:46-49) and then moves to what God has done for the whole human family from generation to generation remembering God’s promises to Israel (1:50-55). Mary’s song highlights the grander dimensions of God’s universal salvific plan by transcending the boundaries of time - all generations will call Mary blessed for what God has done through her (1:48), space - God’s mercy is for all who fear God (1:50), and class - God reaches out to the poor, the lowly and the destitute (1:52-53). Mary as the representative of the Church, the new Israel or the new people of God, praises God who was faithful to God’s promises to Israel and to the whole human family. We have an image of God who is in love with the lowly and humble, and one who exalts the poor and needy. Mary thus becomes an agent of God’s work of liberation, justice, and fullness of life for all and forever.
In Mary’s Assumption, we celebrate the fullness of life, love and forgiveness, freedom from sin and all its consequences, freedom from death to life eternal. In Mary’s glorious Assumption into heaven, we proclaim the greatness of the Lord and celebrate the fulfillment of our Christian destiny. The celebration of India’s Independence reminds us of our great responsibility to continue to fight for human rights, justice, freedom and well being in every aspect of our life. The feast of the Assumption gives us the hope and the assurance that our dream of building up a new community - that is less evil and more gracious, less corrupt and more just and less violent and more humane - would come true !
Rekha M. Chennattu, RA
Province of India