Visitation – 1 June 2020
Two women sit together in a church building, they are Elizabeth and Mary. One is old enough to be the mother of the other. Both women are pregnant. Mary is raised the higher of the two, as she sits on cushions as she sews. Elizabeth sits close beside here, reading a prayer book. Neither is speaking, they are at peace in their companionship. They are observed through a curtain by an angelic being, who kneels in an outer space, a cloister or sacristy. Behind the women, high above them, we can see a painting. A kneeling figure hints that this is of the annunciation – the event that has caused Mary to visit Elizabeth.
Looking at this picture, as we do today from a socially distanced society, we too might long to visit a family member or friend, just to be able to sit close to them, comfortable in their company. The visit depicted here is concerned with communicating that the presence of another is required sometimes, so that we might know all will be well and that God is with us.
This picture is ‘Mary in the house of Elizabeth’ (1917) by Robert Anning Bell. The date reminds us that this picture was painted at a time when many women were at home sewing for those serving overseas in the World War.
In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’ And Mary remained with her for about three months and then returned to her home.
Luke 1:39-45, 56
Almighty God, who looked with favour on your servant Mary, and called her to be the mother of your Son: nurture in us the humility and gentleness that found favour in your sight, that with her we may proclaim the greatness of your name and find the mercy you show to those who fear you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Collect of The Visitation, Scottish Episcopal Church