Today is the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Catholic belief is that after Mary’s Dormition, God assumed her body into Heaven. The readings today in the Mass reveal the Biblical basis for this celebration. Our first text came from Rev. 11.19-12.10.
Revelation 11:19 is particularly striking:
καὶ ἠνοίγη ὁ ναὸς τοῦ θεοῦ ὁ ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ καὶ ὤφθη ἡ κιβωτὸς τῆς διαθήκης αὐτοῦ ἐν τῷ ναῷ αὐτοῦ και ἐγένοντο ἀστραπαὶ καὶ φωναὶ καὶ βρονταὶ καὶ σεισμὸς καὶ χάλαζα μεγάλη.
And the Temple of God which is in Heaven was opened and the Ark of the Covenant was seen in His Temple, and there was lightning and sounds and thunder and an earthquake and great hail.
John writes about an exciting revelation – the Ark in Heaven. It had been hidden since Jeremiah (2 Macc. 2.4-8) and John was saying that he had seen it. Except John goes on to say in the very next verse:
καὶ σημεῖον μέγα ὤφθη ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ, γυνὴ περιβεβλημένη τὸν ἥλιον καὶ ἡ σελήνη ὑποκάτω τῶν ποδῶν αὐτῆς καὶ ἐπὶ τῆς κεφαλῆς αὐτῆς στέφανος ἀστέρων δώδεκα…
And a great sign appeared in a heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars.
Rev. 11.19 and 12.1 are separated only by virtue of a rather modern numbering system. They ought, in my mind, to be read together. John links the Ark with the woman. This would be supported if we could find another instance in the New Testament where this woman who carries the Messiah is also compared with the Ark.
In the Gospel readings today, we read from Luke 1.39-56, Mary’s visitation with Elizabeth. I think Luke here is drawing on Ark typology, particularly the story in 2 Samuel 6 where David recovers the Ark. Like David, Mary rises and goes into the hill country of Judea. David asks, “How can the Ark of the Lord come to me?” (2 Sam. 6.9), while Elizabeth asks, “And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” David leaps and dances in front of the Ark (2 Sam 6.16), and John the Baptist likewise “leaps” at Mary’s arrival (Lk 1.41). While the Ark stays in the house of Obed-Edom for 3 months and blesses it (2 Sam. 6.11), Mary stays in the house of Elizabeth and Zechariah for 3 months (Lk 1.56). There is also the fact that like the Ark in Exodus 40 that is “overshadowed” by the Holy Spirit (Ex 40.35 – ἐπεσκίαζεν), so too Mary will be ‘overshadowed’ by the Holy Spirit (Lk. 1.35 – ἐπισκιάσει).
Considering all the parallels (and more not mentioned here) between Luke 1 and various Ark passages within the OT, particularly the episode where David retrieves the Ark, I think it’s fair to say that Luke has linked Mary in some way with the Ark of the OT. Therefore, when one reads Rev. 11.19-12.1, seeing the “ark” and the “woman” as one sight is entirely justified.