Mysteries of the Lectionary: Why Do We Read about the Annunciation During Lent?
by Gerry Hendershot
I'm working on a series of poems for the Sundays of Lent, drawing from the Gospel lessons assigned by the Lectionary, which include, in addition to the 1st through 6th Sundays, lessons for Ash Wednesday and The Annunciation of the Lord, which this year falls on March 25.
So, I had drafted my poem for the 3rd Sunday of Lent, and then dropped down to the next Lectionary Gospel reading, assuming it was for the 4th Sunday. After drafting my poem I thought, "Wait a minute--why are we reading the Annunciation during Lent?"
Well, on one level it's obvious. Christ was born on Christmas, which is on December 25, right? And how long does it take to make a baby? Of course, Jesus must have been conceived around March 25! The Annunciation!
There is undoubtedly a large literature on the history and theology of Annunciation Sunday. But think about the poetic possibilities of its occurring during Lent. Lent, when we ponder the mystery of death, is interrupted midway by this miraculous gift.
Coincidentally, this week's assignment in Kathy Staudt's excellent course on poetry at Wesley Seminary was to post a response to any one of a list of poems based on scripture, and I chose Edwin Muir's "The Annunciation." Read it here.
Below is my post on Muir's poem. What do you think?
"Arrival" as Annunciation: Amy Grant Meets Gabriel (via Edwin Muir)
We all know what Gabriel looks like--blond, feathered, of indeterminate gender; but we know it from artists' interpretations, not Luke's account of the Annunciation, which tells us only about his/her source, mission and conversation with Mary.
What Edwin Muir's "The Annunciation" leads me to is a fresh and fruitful attention to this mysterious messenger. We learn that Gabriel is "From far beyond the farthest star," and that Gabriel "Feathered through time." Gabriel is, in short, a space traveler, a time traveler.
We also learn from Muir that Gabriel is as deeply moved by his encounter with Mary as she: "Each reflects the other's face/Till heaven in her's and earth in his shine steady;" and their meeting is "so great a wonder that it makes /each feather tremble on his wings."
So fascinated is Gabriel with Mary, and she with him, that "through the endless afternoon," they stare, entranced, into each other's eyes, neither speaking nor moving. We focus on Mary, as Luke no doubt intended we should, but in Muir's re-telling, Gabriel experiences the miracle of the incarnation as much as she.
My favorite image of the Annunciation is by Botticelli (see above). I see in Gabriel's face the rapture that Muir describes. This image, by the way, was the cover art for Mary Szybist's award-winning Incarnadine: Poems, in which she writes about the meeting of Mary and Gabriel in a variety of forms.
In the film "Arrival," Amy Grant plays a linguist assigned to communicate with newly arrived aliens whose intentions are unknown, whose "language" is like nothing known on earth. The plot depends on the linguistic hypothesis that in learning a foreign language, one begins to think in a new way, an experience that is both wonderful and ominous.
In an early scene, the linguist strips off her protective gear, steps forward, and places her hand on the transparent barrier separating her from the alien, which responds by placing its "hand" against hers. "Now that's a proper greeting," she says. From there, their relationship deepens, trance-like. Amy Grant, meet the angel Gabriel!
What I'm suggesting is that in Muir's "The Annunciation," we have a vision of a human-divine encounter in which the divine is as entranced as is the human. It's a vision of our relationship to God (or God's Messenger) in which God loves us as much we should love God--which Mary models for us. I verge on Mariolatry here!
Amy Adams was nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award, which she didn't get, and shouldn't have, in my opinion. But I think she'd make a pretty good Mary, conveying as she does the wonder and mystery of encountering the alien. Watch for the sequel to "Arrival" (working title--"Announcement").