Shared experience is a powerful thing. So much of what binds us together as humans lies in what we can share – in a sense, we were made for it. It is particularly powerful when people who have experienced similar challenges or opportunities find comfort and inspiration in each other.
In today’s passage we see such a meeting. Mary ‘hurries’ to see Elizabeth, and although they find themselves at opposite ends of their journey in life – one is very young, the other very old – they find themselves in the same unusual situation: that of an unexpected pregnancy, and the enormous life-changes that will bring.
One senses that this is the main reason for Mary to visit Elizabeth. Whilst it would be common for relatives – especially female relatives – to pay their respects upon hearing of a new pregnancy, Mary needs to go somewhere, anywhere, that she feels safe, where she can share all her deepest hopes and fears with someone who gets it, who understands.
And there is a good deal of healing in this encounter. Elizabeth already seems joyfully reconciled to her new reality, praising God as early as v25 of Luke’s narrative. However, Mary’s position is more ambiguous. When the angel first visits, she is ‘greatly troubled’ (v29). By the end of the encounter she shows remarkable faith and composure in receiving and believing the angel’s word (v38), but her emotions are veiled – at least not that Luke records. It is only in the company of this wise old mentor and friend that she is finally able truly to embrace her calling, and to burst out in a song of great joy – now known to us as the Magnificat, and the subject of tomorrow’s reading.
It is surely significant that Elizabeth’s first words to Mary are ‘Blessed are you…!’ It might have been the first time that Mary heard it put like that. The Messiah would bless the world, of course – but bless her? It probably didn’t feel like ‘blessing’ at that moment: the scandal, the disgrace, the fear for her own and her family’s safety. Elizabeth’s divinely inspired utterance enables her to see it in a new light – God was blessing her, too.
Perhaps we too have faced – or are facing – great challenges, and have wondered where God is in the midst of it. It is hard to cling on to faith and trust in those times. And we may never get a complete answer this side of heaven. But today’s story encourages us to dare to hope that, somehow, God is in what we face, and that he can bring good out of it.
May we too, like Mary, have courage to receive Elizabeth’s words, this acclamation of God’s healing presence with us in all things: ‘Blessed are you…’ And may the Lord grant us grace to trust again that he always fulfils his promises.