Missouri Synod Church in Downtown Memphis

May 31 – Feast of the Visitation

The Visitation by Tintoretto, 1588

The Visitation by Tintoretto, 1588

T he Feast of the Visitation is a celebration that goes back more than seven hundred years. Time is set aside to remember the visit of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth. According to St Luke, the Archangel Gabriel came to Mary and told her that she would give birth to the Christ. At the same time, her cousin Elizabeth, who was childless, past the age where she could become pregnant, was six months pregnant! Even though cousin Elizabeth lived a hundred miles away, Mary rushed to see her. The pregnant Elizabeth had kept herself hidden from view. she had not heard of Mary’s pregnancy or about her visit by an angel. But the Holy Spirit revealed the news to her. According to Saint Luke….

Mary and Martha Icon, artist and date unknown(more information)

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. 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 fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’

Mary stayed with her cousin for three months, and returned home just before Elizabeth gave birth to John the Baptist. It seems odd that Mary would stay three months yet leave just before Elizabeth had her baby. Luke doesn’t offer any explanation. Very likely Mary, who at three months was starting to show signs of pregnancy, realized that she needed to return home and face her family, the townspeople, and most important, her fiancé who knew nothing about Gabriel’s message.

Visitation in Blue by Maurice Denis, 1892

Visitation in Blue by Maurice Denis, 1892

Why celebrate in May, shouldn’t this be during the Christmas season?

It’s all about the timing. The Feast of the Visitation is between the Feast of the Annunciation on March 25, and the Feast of the Birth of John the Baptist on June 24. A quick look at the calendar shows that the Feast of the Annunciation is exactly nine months before Christmas, the Birth of John the Baptist, six months before Christmas. The truth is, for centuries Feast of the Visitation was celebrated on July 2. This made the celebration occur after the Birth of John the Baptist. In 1969, Pope John Paul VI changed it to a date before John’s birth so that it fit better with the flow of the Gospel readings, and the Lutherans and Episcopalians went along so that everyone could stay together on their liturgical feast days.

What lesson do we learn on this day?

After Elizabeth reached old age she never expected to have a baby. Unknown to her, it was in God’s plan. Mary, finding herself away from her home, unmarried and pregnant, didn’t know what was to become of her. But she knew God had a plan. She trusted Him. Every day, God, calls on us to trust Him and to believe that we are in His plan. So like Mary and Elizabeth, our job is to put our trust in God and let Him reveal the plan that He has for us, all in His own good time.

May 31 – Feast of the Visitation May 28, 2013