A Sermon by Sdn Joseph on the Feast of St Anne
A Blessed Feast of St Anne, Grandmother of Our Lord and Mother of Our Lady, Mary Most Holy.
It is important, I think, to remember that Our Lord Jesus Christ came from a family. He had step-brothers, grandparents, cousins, and extended family. This grounds Him in real time, and a human context.
It is custom from where my family is from to inquire of someone “Who are your people?”. You would never ask someone what they ‘did’, because they might be unemployed and that would cause embarrassment. So you ask “Who are your people?”. Who we are from can certainly inform as well as what we do; and Southerners love to tell family stories.
My people are characters: wealthy, gentile aristocrats to dismally poor dirt farmers in one generation. We have a train robber, a pirate in South Caroline at the time of Blackbeard, and if I am really lucky, there might be a hanged witch from Salem in there. I know who my 7-times great grandfather was in Henry VIII’s England and have seen the inside of the church where he worshiped in Bedfordshire, England; and my maternal grandmother’s first cousin was William Randolph Hearst’s lover for whom he build Hearst’s Castle. Believe me, that is all much more interesting then me explaining to folks my knowledge of department store design and merchandising. Does anyone really care about the formula to figure out profit margin/items= dollars per square foot? No, but a good story about my great grandmother Drucilla, there is some juicy stuff.
My parents were desperately poor, (although as a child I did not know it), and uneducated. My mother had to drop out of school at 12 to pick cotton in the fields, and the tips of her fingers were solid scars from the tough, sharp case around the soft cotton. My father was raised in an orphans home during the Depression, because his parents were both dead by the time he was five, and his 12 year old sister got them from a mud floor shack in Tennessee to Dallas, Texas. The orphanage took my dad and his identical twin brother, but would not take the other two brothers and sister, so they lived in a lean-to on the edge of the property (I have a picture of that as well). My younger brother was the first one since my great-great-great grandfather’s generation to graduate from college.
These are my people. Heroes and scalawags, crafts-folk and slave-owners, the depraved rich and the desperate poor. And all of that, genetically, chemically, socially, and metaphysically makes up me. All of that history of loves, fears, hopes, despair, laughter and tears is concentrated and distilled, and focused into the entity we call Sdn Joseph.
Our Lord has a similar history; but where we can reach back at most 500 years into our family history, He had record back to the beginning of time. It can be shown that the all of the Old Testament is simply the story of God’s working with one family. And if you think about what I have just said, that should be a little shocking to you.
As post-modern, post-post-post-Christian post-enlightenment westerners, we get a little nervous around the idea that there was a family, that we were not a part of yet, that is THE family, and that in a special way set aside by God for the fulfilling of His will. But that is exactly what the Hebrew scriptures are: an account of God taking one family and over the course of thousands of years, teaching them about who He was, what He expected and that in time, into this family, He himself would take their flesh and blood, history and stories, heroes and scalawags, crafts-folk and slave-owners, the depraved rich and the desperate poor, kings and queens, prostitutes and finally a perfect virgin, and focus all of that, genetically, chemically, socially, and metaphysically; all of that history of loves, fears, hopes, despair, laughter and tears concentrated and distilled, into the person we call Jesus of Nazareth, the One and Only Son of God.
On the level of the divine, all of salvation history, all of the prophets, all of the prayers, all of the psalms, and all of the sacrifices bled, from a snake whispering in a garden to the gardens of Babylon where the family was exiled for disobedience, all of this was sharpening to a laser focus on one women, a girl really, who from eternity was to be the center-point, the locus, of everything made, visible and invisible, Our Lady, Mary the Virgin Mother of God.
Once upon a time, according to tradition as found in the apocryphal book “The Protoevangelium of St James”, there was an elderly couple, Joachim and Anna, of the line of David. They were a righteous couple of means, who gave a third of everything they had to the temple, another third to the poor, and a third for their own simple sustenance. I am sure that today’s epistle describes the type of woman that Anna was. They loved each other very much and were blessed, but they had no children. To be an Israelite, and to have no children was taken as a reproach and a sign of God’s disfavor. When Joachim approached the Temple to offer his sacrifices, the High Priest, Issachar upbraided Joachim, “You are not worthy to offer sacrifice with those childless hands!” Joachim took his flocks high into the mountains, refusing to return home in his shame. Anna, wept daily in her garden, and seeing a robin in a nest with its young said, “Even the birds give glory to God with their young.” And so, the Father gave the Word that it was Time.
The Holy Trinity sent the Archangel Gabriel to each of them, who gave tidings of the birth of a “daughter most blessed, by whom all the nations of the earth will be blessed, and through whom will come the salvation of the world.” Joachim was told to return to home where he would find his wife waiting at the city gate. When they saw each other they embraced, and this is the image found in the icon of the Conception of the Most Glorious Virgin. Anne gave birth to a daughter, and they named her Mariam, Mary.
At the age of three, Joachim and Anne brought Mary to the temple to be dedicated to the service of the Lord and presented her to the priest Zecharias. Mary was raised with other young girls in a cloister at the Temple complex, and this is commemorated on the Feast of the Presentation of Mary, on November 21.
Anna and Joachim visited the child Mary many times, and they died in their old age several years after the presentation in the temple. Tradition has that they are buried in the garden at Gethsemane. They did not live to see the Birth of the Messiah, but they were essential to His coming. Like the Prophet King David, they were given but a glimpse of the land that was very far off. They did not see their offspring’s fruit but, like our forebears, they hoped.
These are the Lord’s people.
Through the mystery of baptism, we are joined with these people, and they become our people. The Most Holy and Glorious Ever-Virgin Mary is now our mother, Joachim and Anna become our grandparents, Elizabeth and John the Baptist are our cousins, and on and on. His people become our people. And like our children, and perhaps our children’s children, we can glimpse the Kingdom that is to come, but seems so very far off.
So today we celebrate Grandmother Anna; the woman of Proverbs.