THE WOMAN IN HEAVEN
SERMON PREACHED BY FR. TONY NOBLE ON SUNDAY AUGUST 16th 2009
Revelation 12: 1 “A great sign appeared in heaven – a woman clothed with the sun”.
There is no more interesting book in the Bible than Revelation – it is full of amazing language and fantastic images, it has fascinated and perplexed people down through the ages.
Some people think it is a book of predictions and see in it signs of the times. That is to misconstrue its purpose and its setting. It was actually written at the time of the Roman persecutions to give some hope to the Christians who were suffering so terribly. The infamous number 666 represents Nero – that evil emperor who not only had Christians thrown to the lions, but had them burnt on poles to light up his gardens at night.
As you read through the book you move from failures of churches to plagues and devastation – then half way through there is the sign of a glorious woman in heaven. From then on words in Revelation 12 take over: “Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ have come”.
The pace quickens as we see the Lamb enthroned, the fall of Babylon, the Holy City come down from heaven, and the consummation of all things. It is a wonderful climax to Holy Scripture.
All these signs pointed those first Christians to their victory over suffering, the triumph of their faith and the promise that they would reign with Christ forever.
When they were baptised they received the gift and promise of eternal life. Now their death would be their birth into heaven. And in the midst of these portents and signs, Saint John gives them a sign that was so familiar – the women who “brought forth a male child, one who was to rule all the nations”.
If ever there would be a sign for Christians of their hope of heaven, it could be none other than the Mother of the Saviour himself, Blessed Mary. To those early Christians the “woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and on her head a crown of twelve stars” was Mary herself, reigning in glory with Christ in heaven.
“A great sign appeared in heaven”
We associate the name John with signs – Saint John’s Gospel is full of them. For Saint John everything Jesus did was a sign of who he was. And a sign to us that we should follow him.
Revelation 12:1 is surely his greatest sign – for it speaks to us of our future in the heavenly homeland. And who better to be a sign than the Mother of him who gains us our access into heaven?
Furthermore, when Revelation 12:1 states, “A great sign appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun…” , we see a deliberate connection with Saint John’s Gospel. For in his Gospel, Saint John uses the words “Woman” to describe the Blessed Virgin Mary – deliberately and with great significance.
The first occasion was in the beginning of his Gospel – at the Wedding at Cana, when Jesus turned water into wine. Saint John records that when the Blessed Virgin Mary went to Jesus and told him they had run out of wine, Jesus said: “Woman, my hour is not yet come“. He proceeded to turn the water into wine – an amazing miracle which Saint John describes as “The first of the signs given by Jesus”. Yes, the woman and a sign are at the very beginning of it all.
Then at the end – on Calvary, when the hour has come – the woman is there again. As Jesus hangs dying on the cross, Mary and Saint John are standing there. “Woman, behold your Son”, Jesus says to her. And to Saint John he says, “Behold your mother”.
Here Jesus – at the moment of our atonement – establishes the Church as a community of love. For Mary and Saint John are given to each other at this supreme moment of the redemption of the world. And that must be the Church’s pattern forever.
At the Cross, Saint John the beloved disciple represents us. So in a mysterious way, Jesus gives his mother to the Church – to be the Mother of us all, just as the Church is our mother! So when Saint John says in revelation: “A great sign appeared in heaven, a woman” we know he is saying something significant. Something which goes back to the Cross. Goes back even to Cana in Galilee.
Thus the women clothed with the sun is held up to us as the Blessed Virgin Mary herself. And as we contemplate this image, we see in this glorious woman in heaven the promise that Saint Paul gives us in his Epistles, -that we too, if we are faithful, will reign in heaven with Christ.
Our Blessed Lord told the twelve that in heaven they would sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel – the obvious meaning of the twelve stars crowning the Blessed Virgin Mary’s head. But Saint Paul says we will too.
In Ephesians 2:6 – in his description of new life in the Church – St Paul says that God “Raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus”.
In Colossians 3:4 – Saint Paul’s great affirmation about being raised with Christ – he says “When Christ, who is our life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory”.
As we celebrate this great feast today, any consideration of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s Assumption is a reminder of what the Creed says: “I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come”.
The Blessed Virgin Mary’s heavenly birthday surely reminds us of that.
That we too, like her, will reign with Christ in glory.