You and the ark of your strength
Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Fr Leon Pereira draws attention to how Scripture sees our Lady as the ark of the new covenant.
When you receive a gift, are you the sort of person who keeps the box? A child’s instinct seems correct: to tear off the coverings and get at the gift, for it is the gift that matters. But if you had a truly special gift, from someone special, you might be tempted to keep the box as well for sentimental reasons.
But what if the gift and the giver were God himself? What would you do with the box?
In his Gospel, Luke presents Mary as a box. To be precise, he portrays Mary as the ark of the covenant, as that box-like container which held the Ten Commandments inscribed in stone.
The ark held three things which are all symbols of Jesus. First, the Ten Commandments, the foundation of God’s covenant with his people. But Jesus is the mediator of the new and eternal covenant (Heb 9:15). Second, manna, the bread from heaven with which God fed his people in the desert. But Jesus is the true and living bread from heaven (John 6:48-50). Third, Aaron’s staff which budded and flowered, a symbol of Aaron being chosen as priest. But Jesus is the great High Priest, the Shoot sprouting from the stump of Jesse (Isa 11:1).
Just as the contents of the ark prefigure Jesus, so the ark itself prefigures Mary. The ark contained the old covenant, but in her womb Mary carried the New Covenant.
As the ark was overshadowed by the divine glory (Ex 40:34), so Mary is overshadowed by the ‘power of the Most High’ (Lk 1:35). King David leapt and danced before the ark (2 Sam 6:12-6), and likewise John the Baptist leaps in his mother’s womb at Mary’s greeting. The ark stayed for three months at the house of Obed-Edom, causing an increased fecundity in that family (2 Sam 6:11). Mary stays with Elizabeth for three months, and Mary’s pregnancy is the reason for Elizabeth herself having conceived.
Faced with the ark, David said,
Who am I that the ark of the Lord should come to me? (2 Sam 6:9)
Likewise Elizabeth tells Mary,
Who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me? (Lk 1:43)
In the first reading, the ark is seen in heaven, juxtaposed with the woman clothed with the sun, the woman who gives birth to the Word of God. Mary is truly seen as a new ark, the ark of the new and eternal covenant.
The loss of the original ark was a great blow to the people of Israel, for the ark was the guarantee of the special presence of God with his people. Where the ark was, God was present there in a special way.
In Jesus, God is present in a truly special way. For in Jesus, the fullness of the divinity dwells bodily. Jesus is God-made-man, and so in Mary, the ark of the new covenant, God is fully present in space and time. Mary is the guarantee of the reality that God has become a human being, that God is present to his people — and this time forever.
Since the covenant of our salvation is eternal, it is fitting that the ark of this new covenant should not be lost as the old one was. Mary, as the new ark, is removed from the caprices and changeability of the earth, and placed as a celestial witness of the fulfilment of God’s faithfulness to his covenant.
But Our Lady is more than a box. She is a human being, and a thoroughly redeemed one. In her God has achieved perfectly what he desires for us all.
Mary represents the people of God through the ages. She is the Virgin Daughter of Sion, longing for the coming of the Lord. She is the Church, the bride washed clean without spot or wrinkle.
In her, God has triumphed utterly over sin and death, as a foretaste of that same victory which he will achieve in us all who hope in his mercy. In her at least one part of the Church already shares completely in the triumph of Christ. In Christ, God’s gift of himself to us is so special, that even the box it comes in is worth keeping and glorifying.