15 August 2021
Today is no ordinary day. The Taliban are already at the gates of Kabul after a lightning takeover of the rest of Afghanistan. If an agreement can be struck with the government, then they may be able to enter without bloodshed.
It is also the anniversary of the end of World War II, on 15 August 1945, after the defeat of the Japanese and their surrender, hastened by the horrific annihilation of the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with atomic bombs.
It is also the anniversary of the liberation of the Korean peninsula from brutal colonial rule by the Japanese, 1910-1945, followed by its division, north and south, between Russian and UN protection, which was formalised two years later on this day in 1947. A war followed in 1950-53, followed by a truce, during which millions died. Today is now a day of prayer in Korea for the reunification of the still divided – and still technically at war – country.
And it is the feast of the Assumption, when we celebrate the triumph of life over death, symbolised by Our Lady’s assumption, body and soul, into heaven. Do all these events have something in common? Yes, they do.
The basis of Christianity is the Incarnation, God becoming a human being, and the profound interrelationship between religious truth and earthly reality. The two cannot be easily separated. In the words of St Augustine, they are permixtum, intermingled.
Therefore, in the historical events of this day, from those unfolding in Afghanistan to those of the end of World War II and its aftermath, lies hidden the triumph of love over evil and death, vividly described in today’s reading from the Apocalypse: Mary’s escape from the red dragon poised to consume her new-born son, Jesus, the Saviour of the world, with a voice shouting from heaven, ‘Victory and power and empire for ever have been won by our God, and all authority from Christ.’
This triumph may not be obvious as the Taliban take over Kabul and impose their Caliphate on the willing and unwilling alike, sweeping away many of the positive gains of the last twenty years of US and Nato protection, especially for women. The future is uncertain, for the Afghanis, the people of Myanmar and Tigray, and in so many other troubled parts of the world. Even in the relatively secure West, democracy seems more fragile and open to threat than for many years.
And yet, today’s feast gives hope, which is not just an other-worldly projection of desires without any chance of being realized. No, today’s feast is about what has already happened, the triumph of life over death as we await its complete fulfilment at the end of time, which will come. This is our faith as Christians, unrealistic though it may seem to many.
What is unfolding in Kabul and in so many other places in the world is not definitive. It is not the final word about who we truly are as human beings redeemed by God in Christ. There is another, less obvious, narrative being told than the one that appears in our news bulletins; and we are celebrating that different story today, the Assumption of Our Blessed Lady into Heaven.
The Christian community, the Church, exists to tell that other story, to let the world know that Auschwitz, the killing fields of Cambodia, the massacres of Rwanda and Bosnia do not tell the whole story about humanity. Humanity has been redeemed by Christ’s death on the Cross, and that redemption is already being played out in so many different ways, if only we open our eyes.
It is being played in the self-sacrificial way in which so many nurses and doctors are combatting Covid-19; in the countless acts of service and sheer love that happen all around us every day; in the lives of those who sacrifice their own comfort and well-being to serve others. Like the volunteers of the RNLI; teachers, doctors, nurses and missionaries working in countries that need their help; journalists who put their lives at risk to let the world know what is happening in some of its darkest places.
There is a different story being told, often by those who may not be aware they are telling it, who may not even know Christ or today’s feast. So let’s celebrate Our Lady’s Assumption with hope, and open our eyes to the reality it proclaims, that of love’s triumph, even as the Taliban storm the gates of Kabul.