MARY THE ARK OF THE NEW COVENANT IN THE GOSPEL OF SAINT LUKE
By Fr. Antoine Bakh
1-The Ark in the Old Testament:
During the time of the Hebrew people's wanderings in the desert after the exodus, they carried with them sacred objects which included the sacred tent, the Ark, and various objects used in worship. Among all the sacred apparatuses the Ark was the holiest. It was the place and sign of God's presence among them. Furthermore, it was the sign of the covenant an ever-present reminder of the special alliance between God and Israel. It also contained the tablets of the command-merits of the Law and some Manna as a reminder of the heavenly food they ate in the desert; these were the very life of the people.
Above the Ark, which was placed n the tent of meeting, was an overshadowing cloud or "shekinah"- a visible nianufestation of God's presence which overshadows and fills the place with God's glory.
In Exodus 40:34,35 we read, "Then the cloud covered the meeting tent and the glory of the Lord filled the dwelling. Moses could not enter the meeting tent, because the cloud settled down upon it and the glory of the Lord filled the dwelling." It was always regarded as "the place of the manifestation of the Divine Presence and of God's will to his elect."(Ex.25:22; 30:6; Lev.16:2.) It was so Holy that there were strict prohibitions against touching it (Num.4:15-20,) and many miracles accompanied it (Josh 3,4,6.) It was eventually pinoed in the Holy of Holies of the temple. But during the time of the Babylonian captivity it was lost. During the time of the Maccahees there was a tradition that it will be found in the future when "God gathers his people again and shows them mercy...." (2 Mac.2:7)
2- Mary, the New Ark in St Luke:
In the infancy narratives concerning Mary, St, Luke employs the same kind of language, imagery, and events which the Old Testament uses concering the Ark. In Luke 1:35 the Angel Gabriel speaks to Mary at the annunciation- "The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; hence the holy offspring to be born will be called Son of God." Notice that the Divine presence both overshadows and fills her so that the fruit of her womb is the Lord, the Holy One, the Son of God who will becoree manifest.
In the same way, Exodus 40:34,35 speaks of the holy cloud as overshadowing the place of the Ark, encompassing it, and filling it with the Divine presence so that the glory of the Lord becomes manifest.
In St. Luke then, the mother of the Lord begins to be identified with the new and perfect Ark of the Covenant, the living tabernacle of the Divine presence. The sacred Ark which was once lost and prophesied to be found has now reapaeared. Mary becomes the living Ark of the Covenant carring Jesus, the New Law and the New Manna, the heavenly bread, to give life and salvation to all people.
St. Luke further implies that Mary is the Anti-type of the Ark in the narrative of the visitation. Here, like the first two chapters of Luke in general, there is allusion to the hooks of Samuel; in this case it is 2 Samuel 6:2, where the Ark of God is being transferred to Jerusalem by King David. This comparison shows some of the parallel details of both narratives. (from R Laurentine)
2 Samuel 6:2 (David arose and went from Baal- Judah to bring up from there theArkof
Luke 1:3 (Mary arose and went into the hill country toa cityof Judah)
2 Samuel 6:9 (how can the Ark of the Lord come to me!)
Luke1:43 (and why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?)
2 Samuel 6:11 (The Ark of the Lord remained in the house of Obededom three months.)
Luke 1:56 Mary remained with her (Elizabeth) about three months.
In both episodes the similarities are undeniable. There is a journey through the same hill country of Judah. There is a similar expression made by Elizabeth as by King David (although David's expression is a result of holy fear because of the episode with Uzzah.). There is a manifestation of joy both with Elizabeth when John the Baptist leaped inber womb for joy and with King David and all the people as they danced with shouts of joy before the Ark (2 Sm.6:5,l5.) One should note that the word which Luke uses to express Elizabeth's loud acclamation (anaphonesen) is one which is used specifically for liturgical acclamations (1 Chr.16:45,42.) And especially for those which accompany the transfer of the Ark of Yahweh (I Chr.l5:28, 2 Chr.5:13.)
Futherrnore, the joyous dancing of David corresponds to the six month old Johns leaping with joy in his mother's womb. The Ark blesses the house of Obededom, and no doubt the presence of Mary and the Lord within her blesses the house of Zechiariah as is implied in Elizabeth's acclamation.
The Ark stays in the house of Obededom for three months and Mary remains with Elisabeth about three months. "The last similarity, observes R.Laurentine, could make us suspect that St. Luke is not reporting historical facts (Luke 1:2), but illustrating by way of symbols. The word "about" reassures us in a vivid way his respect for historical data. No doubtl he has rounded off the figure in order to continue the parallel. But he scrupulously warns us with one effective stroke, if he stylizes he does not invent." (Feuillet)
Furthermore, the Ark in Samuel is making its way to Jerusalem. The ascent to Jerusalem is an apex in the gospel of Luke. The whole of Jesus' mission culminates with his arrival in Jerusalem. This is anticipated in the infancy gospel with the presentation of Jesus in the Temple. The incident of the visitation repeesents a stage in the ascent which foreshadows the later stages of Jesus' journey. Jesus ascends to his place, the temple of Jerusalem; Mary, who is carrying him, is the type of the Ark of the covenant.
The number of clearly converging analogies makes it difficult to attribute only an accidental connection.
We must ask, why did St. Luke find it necessary to mention the kind of details that he has chosen to include if he did not intend to imake a conection between Mary and the Ark?
If in two successive narratives, that of the annunciation and the visitation, St Luke echoes the Ark of God, he does so in order to identify a typological convergenece: the mother of the Lord is the New Ark of the Covenant and her son is the manifestation of the Divine presence.
What is significant is that St. Luke is clearly implying that there is a close association between Mary and God's manifestation. She is the center and sign through which the Divine favor, promise, and blessing become manifest in Christ for the people of the new covenant