The Annunciation and Revolution

Some Thoughts on the Feast of the Annunciation
March 25, 2020
during
The Great Pandemic of 2020,

If this were a Eucharist, the readings would be Isaiah 7:10-14,  Psalm 40:5-11, Hebrews 10:4-10, and Luke 1:26-38.

urwin-mark_annunciation-after-martini

The Annunciation, by Mark Urwin of England, after the 1333 altar piece by Simone Martini and Lippo Memmi.

“. . . the power of the Most High will overshadow you”   Luke 1.35

The Annunciation and the Greek Revolution

March 25 is a national holiday in Greece, and not simply because it is 95% Greek Orthodox and highly values Mary as Θεοτόκος Theotokos “God-bearer” or “Mother of God. No, Greece also remembers this as the day 199 years ago when the War of Independence began. While the revolt against the Ottoman Turks actually started some weeks before this in different places, and the War carried on for nine long years, this is the day on which Revolution was declared by Metropolitan Germanos of Patras. As Greeks used the Julian calendar still, it was actually April 6 in the Gregorian calendar, but even though Greece now uses the “New Style” one, they keep the commemoration on March 25. Normally there would be parades and such, but not this year, Still, flags are out at peoples homes, so we have our Greek flag out, with the Canadian one to keep it company.

20200323_191651

There is something somehow appropriate about this. The Angel Gabriel brought a message to Mary of Nazareth that she would conceive and bear a child, despite the fact that she did not “know a man”. Mary is told that

. . . the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end. Luke 1.32-33

Of course, at the time there was no one on the throne of David. Herod, King of Judea, was not of the House of David, and his family were viewed as Idumeans that had converted to Judaism only for political reasons. Herod the Great was a client king of the Roman Empire, and when in the judgement of the Romans his heirs were not as suitable for rule as he, they did not hesitate to divide up his kingdom into lesser principalities and provinces. Thus, the birth of Jesus, and his proclamation by Gabriel that he would be a king, is a revolutionary challenge to the imperial power of Rome and those who collaborate with it. If Jesus was acclaimed later, as an adult, as the King of the Jews, the Romans rightly saw this as a challenge to their rule.

We who live in the west sometimes forget this. We see Jesus’s kingdom as purely spiritual, putting aside the eschatology of the Second Coming and the dominion that would be established. As modern people we try to spiritualize the meaning of Christ’s reign, perhaps putting it in existentialist terms, as Rudolf Bultmann did.

But the Greeks in 1821 understood the coming of the Word into flesh as an anti-imperialistic act. Of course, Jesus in his life, death, and resurrection was non-violent and one who emptied himself, whereas the Greek revolutionaries were used to being violated and did not hesitate to justify the use of violence. But the desire for freedom is the same.

Rowan Williams on the Three-Fold Nature of the Word

In his recent book, Christ, The Heart of Creation (2018), Rowan Williams reflects on how the Word is presented in scripture and theology. He affirms the pre-incarnate Word, through which the world is made. In Jesus born of Mary that divine nature is united to a human nature in a single person. Because there is a single hypostasis in that person Jesus we are entitled, as affirmed by the Council of Chalcedon, to call Mary the Mother of God, or God-bearer. She freely accepts the role offered to her by God through Gabriel, and so becomes the model of obedience that Christ shows in his own life, and is shown in the lives of his followers.   Williams also notes that Christ is present in the church, as the Body of Christ; by the Holy Spirit Christ is present among us. Jesus is bound to the visible community insofar as it is constituted by turning and returning to the foundational and sustaining act of Christ, which is memorialized and made present in communion. Thus, Christ is the unifying and identifying ground of an individual human existence.

Williams calls on Dietrich Bonhoeffer to remind us that we cannot think Christ without his “for the other” nature; therefore, the church must exist for the other, for the world’s reconciliation with God. This is a kenotic action, the pouring out of God in Christ for the world. This is not the way of the world, but it is the way God acts for the world. This anti-worldly attitude is seen in Jesus’s conversation with the disciples:

Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:25-28

This is the true revolution which is announced to Mary in the Annunciation. She does not understand it, but knows that the pregnancy she will have will undermine the seemingly powerful norms of her society. It is a turning of the lazy-susan of the cosmos so that humanity can return to what God created it to be, the image of God.

The Word in Us

So how is Christ present in the Church? Not through its many failings as a human institution, but in the times and ways in which it has let go of power and turned to others. And the Word is united to the humanity of the Church in the same way that the Word is made flesh in Mary – by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit. The way in which the Word is made flesh in us is no less a miracle than the Incarnation and a virgin birth. So on a day in which a revolution is remembered, let us remember the great Revolution inaugurated by the Annunciation, and may it continue in us today.

About Bruce Bryant-Scott

Canadian. Husband. Father. Christian. Recovering Settler. A priest of the Church of England, Diocese in Europe, on the island of Crete in Greece.
This entry was posted in Lent, Sermons and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s