‘All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.’ – Acts 1, 2
I was surprised the first time I realized that Mary, after only Peter and Paul, receives the most mention in the New Testament- 217 mentions in the New Testament. I was shocked the first time I read the beginning of Acts and noticed Mary’s name dropped in there among the list of those who comprised the first church.
A Christian legend holds that, following the crucifixion, the Beloved Disciple took Mary with him to Ephesus where they lived quietly and while he cared for her. It’s a legend that, perhaps unwittingly, portrays Mary as rendered helpless by her grief.
The legend abides and you’re likely to hear it repeated upon a visit to Ephesus today.
Luke, in Acts, gives us a much different take on Mary. There Mary is quietly mentioned as a leader in the Acts church, devoting herself along with everyone else to Jesus’ teaching, to the fellowship of the community, to the Eucharist and to prayer.
How is it we never think of Mary as one of the believers gathered in Jerusalem for Pentecost in Acts? How is it we never think of Mary as one of the disciples who receive the gift of tongues at Pentecost? Yet surely, since she’s mentioned here along with the others, she also participated with them in the Pentecost miracle.
If Pentecost is a story of God unwinding the effects of Babel and creating a new community, a new family of God, then Mary is there at this new family’s birth, as one of its leaders.
I like to think that in the birth of this new community Mary finally sees the promise of Messiah coming true, that in the life of this new community the Jubilee she’d sang about in her magnificat was finally being fulfilled. After all, here was a community ruled by love rather than thrones, a community where the lowly are indeed lifted up and the hungry filled because ‘everyone held everything in common.’ Just as she’d sang about before his birth, all of this is made possible by her Son.
What Mary must realize in Acts, little more than month after her Son’s death, is what she must have started to guess at the Annunciation: that God was bringing together a new People, a people distinguished not by the usual lines of blood or family but a people called together by the particular life which claimed them, a people brought forth not through simple biology but through practicing the life of Jesus.
We return today from the Highlands having discovered that we’re a part of a community which transcends all the world’s definitions of family.
Because of what God does in a manger at Christmas, you have family in parts of the world you hadn’t even looked until now.