We may not immediately think so, but the Solemnity of the Assumption and its readings draw us into the heart of Christian living: the paschal mystery. This paschal dimension unfolds in the life of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, and each of us. Yet it is understood more personally in our own lives when we look at the gutsier side of the feast’s Scriptural texts. For sure, they are beautiful and inspiring, but what underlies the glory is the unmistakable experience of pain and suffering found in those sacred texts. The Assumption is a feast of glory, but not without price. And therein lies the paschal mystery.
Mary’s Magnificat tells what it means to be God’s servant. Notice how the hymn begins and ends: “God has looked upon his lowly servant” (Mary), and “God has come to the help of his servant Israel” (the people of God and us). Why this emphasis on servanthood? Throughout the Old Testament, there are very few individuals who bear the title of God’s Servant (Abraham, Gen 26:24; Moses, Num 12:7; David, 2 Sam 7:5, 8; Job, 1:8). The life of each of these people is marked by the combined elements of great faith and heroic suffering. Their distress and anguish come to be redemptive both for themselves and for others.
When we come to the New Testament, there are primarily two individuals whom the Scriptures distinguish as God’s servants: Jesus and Mary. Both are described as humble and lowly. Jesus took on our fragile and mortal flesh (Phil 2:6-8); and Mary fully accepted the surprising will of God with a total act of surrender (Luke 1:48). Being a servant, in the biblical sense, implies a lowliness or humility in life, a dependence upon God who provides, and a trust in the divine word of promise. Only with the eyes of faith does one see blessing in this. It forces the servant to assume a posture of openness, receptivity, and dependence upon the One who matters most and who quietly leads us to glory—God.
The servant of God in the Bible comes to know that life calls for surrender; therein lies the path to glory, the road eventually leading to deep interior happiness. But could it have been easy for Mary to tell Joseph of her affirmative response to the angel? Could it have been easy for Mary, in her pregnancy, to leave Nazareth and travel in haste to assist her elderly cousin Elizabeth? Yet that is what the Scriptures tell us comprises the essential part of paschal living: that gutsy death-to-self, the response of self-sacrifice and willing surrender to both God and neighbor. This was the path to glory for Mary; and it is also the same for us today.
As Christ’s resurrection was the Almighty One’s affirmation of Jesus’ own self-sacrifice, so Mary’s assumption is God’s acceptance of her life-sacrifice. In our daily living, we are able to offer a willing sacrifice of service to God and neighbor; it may seem very simple and unremarkable, yet we have to leave that evaluation to God. The One who is ever faithful to the divine Word promises that grace is sufficient if we but take hold of what is given us and move forward, as did Mary.