We celebrate the feast of the Assumption this week (Aug. 15).
One of the themes for the feast is “the ark of the covenant,” and it’s helpful to understand how that theme unfolds.
The ark of the covenant had been fashioned by Moses according to plans laid out by God. It held the tablets of the 10 Commandments and some of the manna from the desert. It was a special symbol of the presence of God in the midst of the people. David brought the ark into Jerusalem, and Solomon placed it in the temple.
Eventually the ark was lost. But that made room for the next stage of salvation history: Mary became the new ark of the covenant because she held within herself not just the artifacts of God’s saving action, but God the savior Himself.
The final step in the unfolding of this theme is revealed by a curious interaction in the Gospel. Recognizing that Jesus is the savior, and that Mary is therefore special, a woman calls out: “Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed.” That seems fair enough. Mary is the new ark of the covenant, right? But note how Jesus responds: “Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.”
He’s not saying that Mary isn’t blessed. He’s saying that the deepest reason she’s blessed isn’t her physical relationship with Jesus, which excludes everyone else. Instead, it’s her spiritual relationship with Jesus. Mary, more than anyone, heard the word of God and observed it. Jesus simply says that invitation is open to everyone.
That’s God’s plan for each of us: to receive Jesus, the Word made flesh, and follow Him. If and when we do, each of us becomes an ark of the covenant. Mary received and carried Him in her body; we are to receive and carry Him in our souls. But in order to do that we need to hear the Word of God and observe it — not the word of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch or the Wall Street Journal, not the word of CNN or FOX news.
That shows what the Feast of the Assumption has to do with each of us. Jesus rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven. Then Mary, who received the Word of God and observed it, followed Him: she was assumed body and soul into heaven. Now, that’s God’s hope and plan for each of us: to receive Jesus into our souls, like Mary; to be obedient to Him, like Mary; and to be taken, one day, body and soul into heaven, like Mary.
Dear friends, that’s the desire of God’s heart for each of us. Mary’s Assumption is the pledge that it can happen. Becoming an ark of the covenant — by hearing the Word of God and observing it — is the path. I pray that each of us will stay on that path.