The angel Gabriel did not tell Mary to visit her cousin Elizabeth. It seems strange that a young girl would be allowed to venture so far from home on her own; but the journey on which Mary embarks is her unique lifelong journey that will only end with her assumption body and soul into heavenly glory. Filled with the Holy Spirit, the young Mary knows what to do and so we find the woman and the girl greeting each other in joy. Each in her own way is a living sign to the other of God's gracious action, not just for themselves, but for the whole people of Israel.
The two women stand on a threshold: looking to the past, they can see God's faithful love unfolding over long centuries, and looking to the future they can see the hope of Israel dawning. In this moment, their joy so abounds that even the unborn child leaps in his mother's womb. The joyful leap of the unborn child is a further sign to his mother Elizabeth of the great things God is accomplishing in Mary.
In his account of the birth of Jesus, St Matthew reminds us that this young pregnant girl is also the sign foretold long ago to Ahaz: 'Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel.' But Mary is a sign not just of the fulfillment of ancient promises but also of the future opened up for us by the death and resurrection of Christ. When Mary is assumed into heaven body and soul she is a sign of hope to all future generations. She has gone before us to the fulfillment yet to come, the final resurrection, 'the feast of fat things' on the mountain top where the Lord 'will swallow up death for ever … and wipe away tears from all faces'.
Mary's assumption into heaven is the abiding sign to all generations of God's favour not just for Mary but for every man or woman of faith. When we celebrate the assumption we in fact celebrate the whole story of Emmanuel, God-with-us, and from a very human perspective. Mary assumed into heaven is not a disembodied spirit. She remains the real woman of flesh and blood. She is the mother whose whole life is centred always on her son. She is both the girl who carried Jesus in her womb and the older woman who stood at the foot of the cross. She is the one to whom he said of the beloved disciple (and of us), 'Woman, behold, your son!'
The Book of Revelation talks of a great portent in heaven: 'a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars'. This woman gives birth to a son, and so for all who believe in Jesus this great sign in heaven points not just to Mary but to the mystery of the Incarnation. If Mary is a sign for us then she always points us to her son. God's grace can only be seen in the particularity of a human life. It was seen in this girl who made joyful haste to visit her cousin Elizabeth. It was seen in her to the full.
But God's grace is seen in each of us as well, in our particular stories. Everything we have and are comes from God's goodness. Mary knew that in a unique way, and became the place where God's grace could abide in full. Mary's assumption into heaven is also a sign for us, not just of God's future for us, but of how we should respond to his call to us today. Elizabeth calls Mary blessed twice. 'Blessed are you among women' she says to her young cousin and then 'Blessed is she who believed that there will be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord'. The shift from 'you' to 'she' opens up the circle of blessing and we are invited to enter it in faith. In her great song of joy, Mary then proclaims, 'henceforth all generations will call me blessed!'
In calling her blessed we
too are blessed.
Because her response in faith is without
flaw, whole and complete, she is an abiding sign to each generation of
disciples of the call to respond like her with deep faith in God's goodness, love
and mercy. Little wonder then that when the fruit of her womb, Jesus, has grown
to be a man, and a woman in the crowd called out to him, 'Blessed is the womb
that bore you and the breasts that you sucked!', he responded, 'Blessed rather
are those who hear the word of God and keep it!'