I’ve never understood people’s tendency to rush in order to wait in the process of air travel. Flyers often hover even when their lingering will not get them to their destination any quicker. I recently flew to Boston for Thanksgiving, and sure enough, this hovering phenomenon was popular. When we landed, people immediately shot out of their seats, straining their necks to look at the front of the plane for signs of movement. They stood as soon as the seatbelt sign turned off, only to hover idly in the aisle for the next ten minutes while they waited for the plane door to open.
But on this trip, there was one young flyer who caught my attention. A little boy stood in the aisle and began jumping up and down, saying “Grandma, Grandma, Grandma!” Grandma was not there. He was not calling to her on the plane. Instead, he was repeating her name in anticipation of seeing her for the holidays.
Like the other hoverers, this little boy was impatient to get off the plane. But his impatience was merely a symptom of his excitement to see Grandma. That excitement made him want to rush off the plane and make haste to Grandma’s house.
This week’s passage shares the story of a traveler with similar excitement and anticipation to see her loved one. It is the story of Mary journeying to see Elizabeth.
I’m struck by the textual detail that Mary “went with haste” to the house of Zechariah and Elizabeth. This was not a trip she took at a leisurely pace. Mary was in a rush to see her relative, and if she went by plane, she undoubtedly would have hovered in the aisle.
Going to see Elizabeth is the first thing Luke records Mary doing after Gabriel tells Mary the news of her pregnancy. The content of this message as well as the method in which Mary receives it is exciting, terrifying, humbling, and wholly-confounding.
None of us have ever received the kind of message Mary did. But we have received news that is thrilling, scary, or life-changing. And when we did, one of the first things many of us wanted to do is tell someone else. We have family and friends who we immediately wanted to see or wanted to call.
Mary’s hastened journey to Elizabeth’s home to share her news is such a natural human event. In the aftermath of something so life-altering, Mary needs connection, community, and support. She cannot sit alone with this knowledge. She needs to experience it and process it in community with someone else. She chooses to tell a relative who is not only trusted and beloved, but who is also pregnant. Mary seeks the company of a fellow future mother who is experiencing many of the same joys, worries, and physical changes that accompany pregnancy.
We all need affirmation and support. And like Mary, we need to recognize the times when we should hasten to seek the company of a loved one, knowing that we are only able to find connection within community.
Mary does not hasten to Elizabeth’s house in vain. Elizabeth provides the support Mary needs.
It is interesting to me that Mary’s words are not recorded in this passage. Although she offers Elizabeth a greeting, we do not know exactly what it is she said. Instead, the writer shares with us the words of Elizabeth’s response. She blesses Mary and exuberantly exclaims her excitement that Mary is here with her and that Mary is pregnant. She is welcoming, gracious, and overjoyed.
Elizabeth’s initial greeting surely set the tone for the remainder of Mary’s visit. I can imagine the two of them in the following days discussing the changes they are experiencing, relaying their complicated sets of emotions to one another, and graciously offering each other comfort and solidarity. This passage is the prelude to a beautiful story of two women connecting with one another in love and support.
Elizabeth’s response is one that we all yearn for when we share big news with someone we love, especially when aspects of the news are uncertain and even frightening. The text’s explicit inclusion of Elizabeth’s response while neglecting to include Mary’s words points to the importance of Elizabeth’s excitement and hospitality.
If Mary came to our homes today, would we respond like Elizabeth? Would we affirm and bless Mary’s divine task and welcome her exuberantly into our homes? Into our churches?
Today, women continue to hasten to share the exciting and uncertain news that they were given a divine task, that God has called them to join in Kindom work. And today women continue to knock on the doors of our churches and share the news of their God-given callings. When women in our communities come knocking, will we respond like Elizabeth? Will we invite women in with blessing, support, and affirmation, believing that women today still have the ability to carry and grow the divine?
Pray: God, may I be like Mary. May I hasten to connect with loved ones in times of joy and times of uncertainty, knowing that it is within community that we find celebration, support, and affirmation for our God-given callings.
Pray: God, may I be like Elizabeth. May I respond with joy, affirmation, and welcome when met with the news of a loved one. And may I work to build a home and a congregation that embodies hospitality and blessing for all women who seek to fulfill their divine callings.
This blog series made possible in part by a gift from Myers Park Baptist Church, Charlotte, NC.
If you or your congregation is also using Year W this liturgical year, we would love to hear from you. Please email us at email@example.com. Further resources and online conversation about using the Year W lectionary can also be found at Wilda Gafney’s website: https://www.wilgafney.com/womenslectionary/