Thirty years ago, Stephen Spielberg directed the blockbuster adventure movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark. The plot followed the search for the Jewish Ark of the Covenant, the golden chest housing the stone tablets on which God wrote his Ten Commandments. The movie followed the fictitious conflict between American Army Intelligence and the Nazis in their efforts to own the Ark.
After 2,000 years, the world still considers this holy relic a vessel possessed of great power. Despite the fact that Raiders of the Lost Ark was not a religious film, God's truth could not be obscured even by the distortions of Hollywood's sensationalism.
Scripture also speaks of the reverence that the Jewish people had for this sacred vessel. In the time of Moses, it was hidden behind a curtain in the Tent of Meeting where the presence of God dwelt.
In the second Book of Samuel, we are told that King David transported the Ark into the royal city and danced before it with great joy. Solomon, David's son, built the Jerusalem Temple around the tabernacle that held the Ark of the Covenant.
This week, the feast of the Annunciation reminds us of the Church's title for Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant. God, who wrote his law on human hearts and scribed it on stone tablets, finally forms his Word in the womb of a Jewish virgin.
The covenant between God and man - the promise of love and life - takes on flesh and blood at the Annunciation. This is the mystery of the Incarnation, the Word made Flesh in Jesus Christ. He is the New Covenant which fulfils God's promise to dwell among his people and save them from their sins.
In the Gospel of Luke, the account of the Annunciation again pulls back the veil of hidden truths contained in Mary. The angel acknowledges her with the greeting, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you." With this title, God tells us how we are to behold the mother.
Mary is "full of grace" because the Lord is with her; it is the presence of God that makes her holy. She is always considered in the light of God's work of grace in her. In fact, Mary would have it no other way.
St. Augustine puts these words on Mary's lips when he writes of her humility: "Hear the angel's greeting and recognize in me him who is your salvation." Mary, the "full of grace," is also the "beholden," the one who is "bound in gratitude" to Christ's gift of perfection in her. The Church tells us that without this grace, Mary could not have freely assented to her role as Mother of God.
In the Old Testament, King David danced with great joy before the Ark of the Covenant. In the New Testament, Mary is the ark of the New Covenant.
With the angel's announcement, "Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son," we are invited to look upon God in the flesh. This is his dwelling place, not made by human hands but by God himself.
In the Incarnation, God comes to us through Mary's perfect "yes" - her "fiat." As the Spirit of God overshadows her, we witness the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy: "Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?" (Isaiah 43.19).
Here is the virgin created by her own Son - the mother who gives flesh to the Word. She beholds the Word so faithfully that her womb becomes his home.
As Luke travels with Mary to visit her cousin, we witness Elizabeth's "behold" in the presence of the divine Son. Echoing King David's words, she cries, "And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" (Luke 1.43; 2 Samuel 6.9).
John the Baptist leaps for joy before the Lord in Mary's womb. Elizabeth calls Mary "blessed among women" because she has believed that the promise of God would be fulfilled in her.
At the Annunciation, the prism of Mary's figure is overshadowed by the light of the Holy Spirit. This new and radiant perspective on her life reveals Immanuel, "God with us," in her womb. Her soul magnifies the Lord, reflecting the rainbow of promise that God fulfills in Jesus Christ, who holds in his flesh the intimate relationship between God and man.
When we look at Mary, do we perceive the one who is "blessed among women" because of the fullness of grace within her? During Lent, take some time to contemplate the depths of this holy vessel and revere her as the ark which contains the New Covenant of Christ.
When we deepen the honour we show to Mary, we offer her Son the obedience that he commands of us from his cross.
(Anne Marie Posella is a graduate theology student at Catholic Distance University. She educates her children at home and works as an instructor at St. Clair College in Chatham, Ont.)