“Here am I, the servant of the Lord: let it be to me according to your will.”
– from Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals
This morning I had another conversation with my children about what is happening in the world. They woke up ready to launch into complaining, particularly about the limits on their social life. Normally, they mark the days of the week by which friends they will play with. Now, tears come regularly.
They’re not alone. While I feel some measure of relief as my busy schedule has slowed, I’m grieving the loss of conversation, both casual and substantive, that filled my weeks. I’m grieving the loss of sharing meals, of celebrating babies and birthdays with friends — things that cannot move online. I’m grateful for the things that can — church services, Bible studies, English conversation class — but even so, I grieve for the ways in which they are significantly diminished.
As do you, I’m sure. It’s pretty incredible to me how quickly so much of the world — as far apart as we are, and living in such diverse cultures — has been drawn into a solidarity of experience through this pandemic and the self-isolation required of us.
So today, as we celebrate the Annunciation, Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she would bear the savior Jesus, I’m struck in a new way by Mary’s simple words: “Let it be to me according to your will.”
Before now, I’ve heard in Mary’s words her courageous faith, and her long-view of her own reputation, especially contrasted with Zechariah’s unbelief in Luke’s parallel story. She receives Gabriel’s words as they are: God’s words to her. She receives them in faith, not doubting the truth of the prophecy, in whole-hearted acceptance of her place in God’s plan.
But today, I hear something else: I also hear her acceptance, without complaint or fear, of a difficult and unknown future. Surely a million and one questions must have been whirling around in her mind and heart. Surely she knew the stigma and reproach she was agreeing to, becoming pregnant while not yet married. She was accepting a gift of favor, yes, but it would come with pain and sorrow. I’m sure she knew the stories of her own ancestors well enough to know that God’s favor does not insulate from deep suffering.
And yet, she accepts the Lord’s will. Her words foreshadow Jesus’ own, when he instructs his disciples to pray: “your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). “On earth” is a very grand stage. Mary’s words remind us that our own hearts, minds, and bodies are the specific places on that stage that must first be given over to God’s will.
In Jesus Christ, each of us has received the favor of the Father. He looks at us and is well-pleased. Like Mary, our position of favor comes with good, even incredible, gifts — and also with pain, as we suffer the consequences of living in a sinful world and of following the Man of Sorrows. May we have the faith and courage to say today, “Let it be to me according to your will.”
Featured Image: The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner. Oil on Canvas, 1898.