Dear People and Friends of the Diocese of New Jersey,
“And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.”—
Today on the Church calendar is the Feast of the Annunciation. How fitting this falls during this Women’s History Month. The Feast of the Annunciation marks the visit of the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary in Nazareth to announce to her that she had “found favor with God,” that she would bear God’s son and name him Jesus (See Luke 1:26-38). It is a remarkable story about God’s intervention in the world through a young woman who appears to be just an ordinary person. But this ordinary person, this young woman, was called to extraordinary things.
An agreed statement on Mary issued by The Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) in 2004 titled “Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ” (also known as “The Seattle Statement”), observed, In honouring Mary as Mother of the Lord, all generations of Anglicans and Roman Catholics have echoed the greeting of Elizabeth: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (Luke 1:42). Citing previous work the Commission has done, the statement lists the teachings on Mary about which the two churches agree:
We agree that there can be but one mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ, and reject any interpretation of the role of Mary which obscures this affirmation. We agree in recognising that Christian understanding of Mary is inseparably linked with the doctrines of Christ and the Church. We agree in recognising the grace and unique vocation of Mary, Mother of God Incarnate (Theotókos), in observing her festivals, and in according her honour in the communion of saints. We agree that she was prepared by divine grace to be the mother of our Redeemer, by whom she herself was redeemed and received into glory. We further agree in recognising in Mary a model of holiness, obedience and faith for all Christians. We accept that it is possible to regard her as a prophetic figure of the Church of God before as well as after the Incarnation.
Today, it is the announcement itself, God’s announcement of God’s own intention to intervene in the world’s affairs and history that captures my attention. “And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus,” Gabriel informs Mary. Gabriel fleshes out the implications of this: “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
Of course the messenger Gabriel omits some important details in all of this: the route of this Son’s greatness—Calvary and Golgotha. It will be the old man Simeon, a chapter later in Luke, who will provide the “shadow-side” of this Annunciation saying to Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
I wonder how God is intervening today in our world and in our lives. What “annunciations” is God making to us as Church, as individuals? Canticle 10, which is taken from Isaiah 55 and which I use regularly for my morning devotions during Lent includes the following verses:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9)
Lent is a time for us to consider the degree to which we have wandered far from God and God’s ways. As we consider the brutality and evil caused by the war in Ukraine; as we consider the ugliness of our politics domestically illustrated in the appalling behavior and questions of some during the Senate confirmation hearings of Judge Kentaji Brown Jackson; as we consider the hatred and enmity that characterize so much in our world today, including too many of our everyday interactions, it is clear we have wandered far from God. It is a time to hear God’s words of invitation to return to the arms of God’s love and mercy, like the prodigal children we all are.
The House of Bishops met in Texas from March 15–21. I was excused from this meeting so that I could join family on a much-needed vacation that had been postponed from last year because of COVID. I am, however, aware that the House of Bishops issued two important statements during its meeting: one of the War in Ukraine which you can find by following this link and one on political actions in this country which are targeting Transgender persons which you can find by following this link. I fully support and endorse both of these statements. I believe they are in keeping with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and represent the kind of invitation to God and God’s ways we need to hear today.
May God bless you and keep you as we continue our Lenten journey.
Faithfully yours in Christ,
The Right Rev. William H. Stokes
Bishop of New Jersey
 “Introduction” – Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ—An agreed statement produced by the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) 2004, p. 5 found on the Anglican Communion website at https://www.anglicancommunion.org/media/105263/mary-grace-and-hope-in-christ_english.pdf
 Ibid citing Authority in the Church II (1981) paragraph 3.
 See Luke 2:34-35