We call today (March 25) the Feast of the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38) but I wonder if it might be more accurate to call it the Feast of Interruption. Here’s what I mean by that.
We don’t know what Mary was doing when the Angel Gabriel showed up. Holy scripture doesn’t tell us. I’m willing to bet, however, that getting pregnant with and ultimately giving birth to the Son of God was not on her to-do list for the day. Whatever she was doing Gabriel interrupted her day; physically, emotionally, and spiritually. With Gabriel’s announcement Mary’s life and world are interrupted. Her plans and expectations are interrupted.
It seems that God is always breaking into and interrupting our lives in ways, places, and times that we do not expect, and that we can neither explain nor understand. We shouldn’t be surprised then that most every year Gabriel’s announcement interrupts the Lenten season. This year is no exception. Here we are just a few days before Holy Week and the Feast of the Annunciation has once again interrupted our Lenten rhythm and routine. My guess is that most of us, this Lenten season, have been focused on Jesus’ death and resurrection not his conception and birth. So today comes to us an interruption.
It interrupts our focus on Holy Week. It turns our attention from the last days of Jesus’ earthly life to its conception and beginning. The mystery of death is interrupted by the mystery of life. On a more pragmatic level some of the members of our altar guild had their day interrupted by the Annunciation. They had to come in and change the altar hangings from purple to white. They replaced the somber brown wooden cross and candlesticks with shiny brass ones. And later tonight or maybe tomorrow they will bring back the purple and wood. Today the Lenten fast has given way to a feast, and alleluias will be proclaimed for the first time since before Ash Wednesday. Today we feast on interruption.
This isn’t, however, just an interruption of our schedule and routine. It is a necessary interruption. The Annunciation is as necessary to Lent and Holy Week as Good Friday is to Easter. These are not isolated events that we must get through. Rather, they reveal the common thread of God’s presence, power, and love that runs through us and weaves the tapestry of our own lives. It is a tapestry of wombs and tombs, beginnings and endings, birthing and dying. Isn’t that what we prayed in today’s collect?
Pour your grace into our hearts, O Lord, that we who have known the incarnation of your Son Jesus Christ, announced by an angel to the Virgin Mary, may by his cross and passion be brought to the glory of his resurrection.
Without the Annunciation, the mystery of God embodied in human flesh and living in us, among us, as one of us, Lent is stripped of meaning and hope. It becomes nothing but a season of focusing on our failings and deficits. Without Holy Week the Annunciation has no purpose, no direction. Jesus of Nazareth (as John Breck points out in God with Us) might be a good man, a holy man, a moral example, a wise teacher, maybe even a miracle worker but he is not the Author of Life. Death still reigns supreme.
We cannot, therefore, separate and distance the Annunciation from the Lenten/Holy Week journey. The mystery of the incarnation announced by Gabriel both interrupts and fulfills our Lenten/Holy Week journey. In some way the womb of Annunciation and the tomb of Lent/Holy Week are mirror images of each other. St. Luke makes that very clear. So let me offer a few comparisons and connections.
- The angel Gabriel comes to a young woman, Mary, and announces that she will conceive and give birth to new life, the Son of God. (Lk. 1:26-32) So what about the tomb? Two men in dazzling clothes announce to the women that Jesus is not in the tomb, “but is risen” (Lk. 24:1-6). Just like Gabriel they announce a new life.
- Mary is “perplexed” (Lk. 1:29) by Gabriel’s greeting. The women are “perplexed” (Lk. 24:4) by the absence of Jesus’ body.
- Mary wrapped her child “in bands of cloth” and laid him in a manger (Lk. 2:7). Jesus’ body is wrapped “in a linen cloth” and laid in the tomb (Lk. 23:53).
- Mary is a virgin (Lk. 1:34). No man has ever entered her. Likewise, Luke tells us, Jesus’ body was taken down from the cross and laid in a “tomb where no one had ever been laid” (Lk. 23:53). A virginal womb. A virginal tomb.
Do you see the common thread running thorough all this? The womb creates and births, the tomb re-creates and re-births. The womb doesn’t just lead to the tomb it transforms the tomb. This Feast of Interruption, the Annunciation, is the content of, gives meaning to, and fulfills everything that happens in Jesus’ life, everything he does, and everything that he is. With the Annunciation the divine thread is woven through every womb and every tomb. The fabric of human life has forever been changed. That’s why we can and do take this Lenten journey. It’s what enables us to walk through the sufferings of Holy Week.
Look at the fabric of your own life. It is a fabric of wombs and tombs. Where do you see wombs? What is being conceived? What is being birthed? Where is creativity happening? How is your imagination being sparked? Where do you see tombs? What are your losses and sorrows? What is your darkness? What has died or is dying in you?
With the Annunciation God promises to interrupt our lives. Hidden within every womb and every tomb is Gabriel’s announcement, “Greetings favored one! The Lord is with you” (Lk. 1:28). Gabriel’s words echo in our wombs and in our tombs interrupting our lives with Life. That’s the necessary interruption. That’s the interruption we yearn for. That’s the interruption we seek and for which we are desperate. Whether we know it or not that’s the interruption we came seeking tonight.
I cannot tell you how this interruption happens. I don’t know. I only know that it does. I’ve experienced it in my life and I’ve seen it happen in yours. I don’t understand it and I can’t explain it. I can offer no answers. It is, as Mary knows, however, enough to “let it be.”
“Let it be. Please, God, let it be.”