St. Olaf Student Congregation offers weekly Lenten devotions
Every winter, the St. Olaf College Student Congregation invites students, faculty, and staff to contribute to a Lenten devotional booklet. The contributions are gathered and assembled, and the devotions are made available during the holy season.
The theme for this year is “A Great Cloud of Witnesses,” and members of the St. Olaf College community have written about some of the individuals who populate the Bible and some who populate our lives today.
Devotions will be sent by email each Wednesday of Lent beginning with an Ash Wednesday reflection on Mary’s song, the Magnificat, which you can read below.
One way that the writers of the New Testament define faithfulness is in terms of a promise. When one makes a promise, it is done with faithfulness. The one who makes the promise intends to do something and they will not let you down, they will not go back on their word, they will be faithful. Likewise, when one is the recipient of a promise, it is received with trust, with the belief that the one offering the promise will be faithful. This response, this trust in the promise is also called faithfulness. The recipient has faith in both the promise and the faithfulness of the one who made the promise. Faithfulness, then, is always experienced in relationship with another.
The faithfulness of Mary is captured in her words, her speech, her song, in the Magnificat in Luke 1. Mary begins by proclaiming her trust in God. She sings, “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Mary may have been experiencing any number of emotions: fear, doubt, nervousness. What is important is that there was also trust — faith in the one who makes the promise. Mary declares her faith as she proclaims, “God has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” God promised that she would become pregnant by the Holy Spirit, and Mary trusted God. God was faithful to God’s promise, and now Mary shows faithfulness in response.
But this is the not the end of the faithfulness story. Mary’s song continues. Mary declares that not only has God made a promise to her, God makes a promise to all of creation. God makes a promise to us. She sings, “God’s mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.” Here, “fear” is best understood as “to receive and stand in awe of God’s promises.” She continues, “God has shown strength with his arm … and lifted up the lowly. God has filled the hungry with good things.” She declares that, “God will show mercy according to the promises made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
Mary’s song is a declaration of her faithfulness to God. God promised that she would bear a Son and that his name would be Jesus, and she had faith in that promise. But Mary’s song is also an invitation. She proclaims that God makes and continues to make promises to all of the descendants of Abraham forever. God promises to lift up the lowly. This includes us. When we are brought low, when we walk through life’s valleys, God promises mercy. When we hunger; when we hunger for love, for forgiveness, for justice, for companionship, God promises that we will be fed with good things. God makes promises, and God will be faithful. Mary’s song calls us to trust in God, to continue in the long line of faithfulness.