Harrowing Of Hell
March 25, 2021

Homily for the Feast of the Annunciation

Society teaches us to set our sights on a goal and to organize life around the achievement of that goal, in the same way that you might choose a point on a map and then plan a route to arrive there. What happens if we take away the goal, and put down the map, and don’t have a singular objective. What happens if we focus instead on the question of how to navigate? What if we follow a string of yeses instead of a line that points toward one particular place? Where might a string of yeses lead?

When the Archangel Gabriel visited Mary with the news that she was to become the mother of Jesus, said yes without being able to fathom the full depth of what her answer would mean. She couldn’t have known, in the detail that we know now, how it would shape her life. Her yes was a leap of faith. What was posed to her was undeniable, though: Mary, be the mother of of the Son of the Most High. Whataya think? You busy? What might one possibly say to that?

Of course this is an extraordinary situation. Maybe I’m just not doing it right, but in my life so far I haven’t seen an angel at my window informing me that I’m about to become the mother of a child of God. Maybe I missed the memo…

Scope and scale and the mundanity of regular life considered, though, maybe there are still messages. Maybe there are holy messengers at my window. Maybe the message isn’t quite as grand as the one given to Mary. Maybe it doesn’t arrive via a messenger with a pair of rainbow colored eye-studded wings. Unless it’s ComiCon and I’m downtown walking past the Convention Center. This is Seattle after all.

But what if a message still comes? Outside my window at home, right now, a pink flowering current bush, or Ribes Sanguineum Glutinosum is in full bloom. I see it in the sunlight every morning and at night it looks pale like a paper cut-out when I go to bed. And it catches my attention, especially this part of its name—Sanguineum—relative of the word Sanguine, meaning blood red, and I kid you not, “optimistic or positive, especially in an apparently bad or difficult situation.” I learned the Latin name of the bush a few weeks ago from a friend. We emailed pictures back and forth. It was just this past Saturday that Sanguineum caught my eye and I looked up the definition in the dictionary. Sometimes the pieces come together over time. Sometimes the meaning is revealed slowly. I laughed, though, out loud into the air at discovering the meaning of the flowering message growing outside my window. Growing louder by the day. Growing undeniable.

So yes to that. Yes to the sanguine herald and an outlook of optimism. And yes to what all else I don’t know yet, but this is a good place to say the next yes from. These are beads on a malleable string, these are steps on a discursive path, not fixed points along a projecting line. But add one to that string of yesses by which a person might navigate not even toward—but WITH—something greater than that which can be named and known on a map or arrived at by following a straight line. Maybe we call this navigating by FAITH or by GRACE or with GOD or by following a Guardian Angel or the Holy Spirit. The name is up to you.

The crucial part is listening. The crucial part is the capacity to hear. So what message is arriving to you? What annunciation is arriving to you, for you specifically, in a way that is unique to the capacity you have to perceive it?

To what do you say yes? What partnership do you form with that to which you say it?

It’s only been a couple of weeks now that the societal implications of the precautions we’re taking to limit the spread of Covid-19 have started to become evident; that we can feel the changes they’re making in our lives. It might seem like all the stations you’ve been tuning into have become saturated with constant Covid updates, or have faded into static altogether. Hold fast to the listening, though. A profound message of what is essential is emerging like Hellen Keller discovering language, with one hand outstretch under the pump, Annie Sullivan spelling W-A-T-E-R into the other; and a new light appearing on her face.

What are these new words that you hear? I would love to know.

Be well, Epiphany

Homily by Kori Martodam
For Lenten Evening Prayer for the Feast of the Annunciation, 3/25/2020

Artwork by Ivanka Demchuk