the penultimate WORD

Series 2008 - March
Hail Mary... full of Grace...


The Irvine Tartan  My monthly column in The New Brunswick Anglican





Luke the Evangelist proclaims an Annunciation gospel of hope and redemption.  Accounts of Jesus’ birth and his death are penned by him.  His witness begins well before the arrival of Joseph and Mary in Bethlehem, in time for the Imperial census.  He continues to trace the redeeming acts of God through to the Passion, and beyond.

Tradition attributes more than a written account to Luke.  Tradition places him early in the unfolding drama with paint brush and easel.  The icon known as Our Lady of Częstochowa is attributed to him.  It is popularly known as the Black Madonna and is found in Poland, not far from the ancient city of Kraków. A framed copy hangs in my living room.

In the city of Kraków, at the Katedra Wawelska, beads slip through fingers, faithfully polishing wooden orbs rehearsing Gabriel’s greeting of Mary… Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you…  The proximity of Grace and the satanic ovens of the infamous Camp besmirching the city remind us of the paradox of the Incarnation.  Into the very midst of the contradictions of our lives John tells us that the Word took on flesh and dwelt among us.  Grace and Truth reveal God’s glory where we would otherwise only see hatred and deception.


Seiger Köder’s Stations of the Cross entitled The Folly of God, traces Jesus’ last steps from his sentencing in Pilate’s Hall to his disposition in Joseph’s sepulchre. The depictions include Maternal Womb, a touching and reflective representation of the Pieta.  Mary cradles the body of her son, lifeless in her arms.

As a Nazi soldier, Köder was captured by the Allies.  After his release following the war he studied fine art in Austria.  In the sixties he answered a late Vocation to Holy Orders and was ordained a priest in 1971.  His brush reveals an integrated faith. The redemptive initiative of God touches the despair of felons on Golgotha, and we witness the covenant of Jeremiah’s foretelling.  Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you

Beginning with the Cross of Jesus, tangible intention allows beads to slip deftly past thumb and forefinger and echo Luke’s words placed on Gabriel’s lips.  Pausing to recall Jesus’ prayer taught to his disciples, intention continues until at last the familiar medallion is in hand.  Creedal affirmations rehearsed, the beads return always to the Cross.  Beginning and ending, is the Cross.

My past association with the tactile discipline of the Rosary was influenced by the prejudice that surrounded me.  I recognized the beads.  But they were kept at a distance.

“Have you noticed the contrast?” I was asked.  A stranger put the question to me one day as I examined a Rosary at Anglican House in Saint John.  Noticing the beads in my hands, he pressed his point, insinuating himself into my space and thoughts.  “The medallion,” he asked, “have you detected its paradox?” Confused, I asked him to explain…

 “Most people think that this is a Marian prayer,” he told me.  “That couldn’t be further from the truth.  This is a Christological prayer.  All of the prayers touch on Jesus.”

He went on, “Besides the Creed – we say the Creed when we come to it – have you noticed what is on the medallion?”  I confessed that I hadn’t.  I took a careful look.

“See, one side is the Madonna and Child.  On the obverse is the Pieta.  It’s interesting… do you see the paradox?”  I didn’t.  And I told him so.

“Mary never ages… but Jesus does!”  He took a coin out of his pocket and held it between his thumb and forefinger. “Imagine this coin spinning between my fingers… The image blurring as the coin spins.  Think of the medallion is like that.  As it spins, the blurring images merge and Mary remains ever young. Three decades of aging is not seen in her but it is obvious with Jesus.  At once Jesus is newly borne… newly crucified… and the two merge…”

“The Child becomes the father of the Man,” I added. “Exactly,” he said, and pocketed his coin.

Jesus’ birth leads to his death and his death on the Cross is the purpose of his birth.  Redemptive love is witnessed at his beginning and his ending – an Alpha and Omega – not to be forgotten as Carols sung in the darkened days of December or the lengthening days of Spring.


Copyright © 2008 James T. Irvine

Series 2008

Sermon delivered at St Matthew's ELCIC, Fredericton

the penultimate WORD Series of the Festivals of Light