Singing the Magnificat with Mary this Lent
By David Tutty
Lent is upon us again. For another year, we are called to prepare to relive the momentous events of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. For this year’s journey, I suggest we have much to learn by listening to Mary’s song of praise, the Magnificat.
Many are drawn to the praise that Mary sings to God in the first part of the Magnificat but struggle with what is said in the second part. After praising God, Mary remembers what God has done for her people in past times. She remembers that God is the one who brings freedom to the poor, the hungry and the oppressed. God is the one who breaks the hold of those who use power to crush others. God is the one who pulls down the mighty rulers and sends the rich away empty. To our minds, this is a God taking sides but this is the God whom Mary knows.
My sense is that Mary is telling us something of the very nature and ways of God. Her words in the Magnificat tell us what God does because this is God’s very nature. Mary knows that God is with those who are poor, hungry and made powerless and that God works to end their suffering. She knows this because God has done this already in the history of her people, and now she can trust that God will do it again.
We need to remember that at the time of Mary and Jesus Israel was not a peaceful place. Israel was occupied by the Roman army and most of the Jews were suffering because of this occupation. Some Jews did benefit because they cooperated with the Romans and these people were feared and they were even seen as traitors by many of the Jews. At this time, there were even Jewish people who often rebelled against the Romans.
Mary’s song helps us understand why Jesus was arrested and violently killed. Jesus also experienced God as the one who stands with those who suffer most because of injustice. He was killed because he was seen as a threat by those who benefited from the oppression of the Romans. He was a threat because he opposed the structures of power. Like his mother, Jesus trusted that God would again pull down the mighty and send the rich away empty so that those who suffered injustice would be free.
We have become distanced from the social context of the crucifixion. We may even think that it is not our world anymore. But today we still live in a world where social, economic and cultural injustice occurs. We still live in a world where people are poor, hungry, powerless and marginalised because of the way we organise our social structures. There is still a reason to sing with Mary her song of trust in God that poverty, oppression and discrimination will end.
Lent is traditionally a time of spiritual preparation. Mary’s Magnificat offers a valuable insight into the nature of God and the spirit out of which we are called to prepare for the events of Easter. Our Lenten journey opens us up in two ways. Firstly, this journey opens us to the God whom Mary praises in the Magnificat. And secondly, and because of this, God calls us to join in the work to end all suffering because of social, economic or cultural injustices.
If we do this we will experience Lent as a journey of conversion, drawing us closer to the One whom Mary praised and whom Jesus incarnated. We prepare during Lent when we open ourselves to an ever deeper conversion where we are shaped and moulded by our Magnificat God.
Each of us need to learn to sing the Magnificat as Mary sang it. Then it will become our song of praise this Lent so that Mary’s God can lead us to see the rawness and injustice of the world. By singing the Magnificat, we show our trust in God. We trust God will do again what Mary knew God had done for her people in the past. In this way we will be ready to celebrate Easter Sunday and the promise of the resurrection for us all.