So I’ll admit it’s not a great picture. It was taken with my Canon Sure Shot in 1994. Real film – imagine that! Unfortunately, after many searches online, I haven’t been able to find a better complete picture of it so this is the best I have.
Have you ever had one of those moments where you see something or experience something that strikes you deep in your soul in a way you never forget? That’s what happened when I saw these statues in the back of St. Vitus Cathedral at Prague Castle. That’s why I was so excited to find this picture.
The artwork is two women running towards one another – one of them is very pregnant. You can tell they are running from the way their head coverings are moving behind them and the position of their feet. The piece communicates a joyful reunion between women who care about each other – Mary and Elizabeth.
I’m not really sure why this image resonated so deeply with me on that day in 1994 and has stuck with me all these years. Maybe it was that it put a more personal face on a Bible story I had read at least 100 times. I had never really taken the time to imagine what that actual encounter between the two women was like. Maybe it was how it communicated joy – the joy of Jesus coming. Joy I should have every day.
A few years after I saw this, the image came back to mind when doing the Bible study Falling in Love with Jesus by Dee Brestin and Kathy Troccoli. In Week 2, they point out some things about this story in Luke 1:26-56 that I’d never thought about before. One was that as the angel Gabriel answers Mary’s question, “How can this be since I’m a virgin?” he mentions her cousin, Elizabeth, and her ability to conceive in her old age. From verse 37, we know that part of why he mentions Elizabeth is to illustrate that nothing is impossible with God – including miraculous pregnancies which both of them were. But the authors of the Bible study also think Gabriel was hinting to Mary to go see Elizabeth. Which she does “with haste” after the angel leaves her.
Why would the angel hint to go see Elizabeth? I think there are at least a few reasons. One is that Elizabeth’s baby leaping in her womb at the sound of Mary’s voice and then the words she said as she was filled with the Holy Spirit had to be an incredible encouragement to Mary. Here she has been given an amazing promise by an angel that she would carry the Messiah and then Elizabeth confirms what he said when she says, “And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Elizabeth had to have erased any possible doubts Mary might have had about God’s promise and call. Plus Elizabeth’s words that she will be blessed because of her trust in the Lord would be another strong encouragement as Mary embarked on a daunting assignment. Mary’s response to Elizabeth’s words is praise to God.
We know from verse 56, that Mary ended up staying with Elizabeth for 3 months which, given the timetable in verse 36, would mean she stayed until John the Baptist was born. I think another way Elizabeth would have encouraged Mary was simply as another woman who was also pregnant but a few months ahead of her to let her know what was normal and what to expect.
Finally, for Mary to have said “Yes” to God in this meant that she would have been thought to have had sex before marriage – something that could have been penalized with being stoned to death in that time. Thankfully Joseph listened to the Lord and took Mary as his wife. But surely there were many times when Mary had to endure being looked down upon, ridiculed, criticized, and insulted. Nice Jewish girls just didn’t get pregnant before marriage. What a blessing it must have been to spend those first 3 months with Elizabeth – possibly the only person besides Joseph who believed her, a woman who completely understood her situation and supported her in it, and someone who praised her faith in and surrender to God.
As the questions in the Bible study led me to ponder the time that Mary and Elizabeth had together and their relationship, I was overwhelmed by the kindness of the Lord to provide Elizabeth for Mary. That He would look out for Mary out of His love and care for her as He was calling her to something amazing and yet also challenging. It encouraged me to remember the times He had shown such kindness to me and to trust Him to continue to do so.
So look at Mary and Elizabeth running to each other. Such joy! Such kindness! Thank you, Father, for giving us the same.