This little Hebrew word is a word which always seems to come at the end, whether it’s a prayer, or a psalm or a hymn. It’s a word that comes after, not before. It suggests a sense of completion, everything that needs to be said has been said. It’s a word that brings closure, an ending.
And yet paradoxically, in Luke’s gospel at least, this little word actually comes right at the beginning. In Luke’s story of the annunciation, the angel appears to Mary. She is told that she will bear a son, that he will be called Jesus, and that the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” “Let it be”, in Greek, Genoito, in Latin, Fiat, in Hebrew and Aramaic, Amen. Mary says to the angel, Amen. Mary hears this extraordinary promise of salvation, and on behalf of the whole of creation, she says, Amen. She whispers words of wisdom, ‘Let it be’. And this ‘Yes!’ is not an ending. It is a beginning.
With this word, Mary signals the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, and Mary sings with joyful abandon of this good news in the Magnificat: God will scatter the proud and arrogant in their conceit. He will put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalt the humble and meek. He will fill the hungry with good things and the rich he will send away empty.
Mary sees the reality and the truth of what God’s salvation means. It leads to the transformation of our relationships, where wrongs are put right, where human beings are valued and loved unconditionally, where the hungry are fed, where the refugee is welcomed, where justice is restored. And it is because she sees all of this being worked out in the face of Jesus Christ that Mary’s ‘Amen’ is not just an end but a beginning.
When we utter the word ‘Amen’, we are, in the words of T S Eliot, making an end and at the same time …. a beginning. In uttering this little word, we are beginning to acknowledge the reality of God’s love and of God’s grace to transform us into his likeness, to become the body of Christ, to be witnesses to his Kingdom. When we utter the word ‘Amen’ even in the face of the uncertainties we face, amidst all our fears and anxieties, in the face of the current pandemic, in the face of all the brokenness and injustice of our world, we are beginning to echo Mary’s courageous faith and her audacious hope.
The Reverend Dr William Lamb, Vicar, University Church, Oxford.
Image: Madonna and Child, Westcott House Chapel, Will Lyon-Tupman