Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Feast of the Annunciation


Today is the Feast of the Annunciation. In layman's terms, today we celebrate the angel Gabriel's announcement to Mary in Luke 1. "Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus..." (Luke 1:31).

Why today? Isn't this Lent--isn't Good Friday just next week? It does seem like an odd time for this suspiciously Christmasy celebration, but there is good reason: pregnancies take nine months. You can do the math.

In celebration of the Feast of the Annunciation, I'm again posting a poem by the great English poet John Donne (1572-1631), "Upon the Annunciation and Passion Falling upon One Day. 1608." Because Good Friday moves around from year to year, it happens on occasion that it will fall upon March 25th--this happened in 2005, and it's coming up again in 2016. Donne wrote this poem, as the title makes clear enough, on such an occasion. I think this piece is beautiful, and I've personally found it to be a great way to consider the weight and majesty of the Annunciation while nevertheless keeping an eye to Holy Week, fast approaching.

Upon the Annunciation and Passion Falling upon One Day. 1608

Tamely, frail body, abstain today; today
My soul eats twice, Christ hither and away.
She sees Him man, so like God made in this,
That of them both a circle emblem is,
Whose first and last concur; this doubtful day
Of feast or fast, Christ came and went away;
She sees Him nothing twice at once, who's all;
She sees a Cedar plant itself and fall
Her Maker put to making, and the head
Of life at once not yet alive yet dead;
She sees at once the virgin mother stay
Reclused at home, public at Golgotha;
Sad and rejoiced she's seen at once, and seen
At almost fifty and at scarce fifteen;
At once a Son is promised her, and gone;
Gabriel gives Christ to her, He her to John;
Not fully a mother, she's in orbity,
At once receiver and the legacy;
All this, and all between, this day hath shown,
The abridgment of Christ's story, which makes one
(As in plain maps, the furthest west is east)
Of the Angels' Ave and Consummatum est.
How well the Church, God's court of faculties,
Deals in some times and seldom joining these!
As by the self-fixed Pole we never do
Direct our course, but the next star thereto,
Which shows where the other is and which we say
(Because it strays not far) doth never stray,
So God by His Church, nearest to Him, we know
And stand firm, if we by her motion go;
His Spirit, as His fiery pillar doth
Lead, and His Church, as cloud, to one end both.
This Church, by letting these days join, hath shown
Death and conception in mankind is one:
Or 'twas in Him the same humility
That He would be a man and leave to be:
Or as creation He had made, as God,
With the last judgment but one period,
His imitating Spouse would join in one
Manhood's extremes: He shall come, He is gone:
Or as though one blood drop, which thence did fall,
Accepted, would have served, He yet shed all;
So though the least of His pains, deeds, or words,
Would busy a life, she all this day affords;
This treasure then, in gross, my soul uplay,
And in my life retail it every day.

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