There is a teaching presented in the New Testament that Mary is the Ark of the (new) Covenant. Recall what the Ark of Covenant was in the Old Testament. It was a box of Acacia wood, covered in gold. (See photo at right of a replica). Inside it were placed: the two tablets on which God inscribed the Ten Commandments. Also in it was the staff of Aaron, and a vile of the Manna. More importantly, in this box, this ark, dwelt the very Presence of God in Israel. God mysteriously dwelt within, much as is the case today in our understanding of the tabernacle in our Catholic Churches. Incredibly however the Ark was lost when the Babylonians destroyed the temple and Jerusalem in 587 BC. It was never found again. Or was it? There is a scene in the New Testament, the Book of Revelation where it is rediscovered:
Rev 11:19ff Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant. And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a great hailstorm. A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads. His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter. And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne.
Note that the Ark is seen. It has been found! John then seems to say nothing more of it. Or does he? He goes on to describe a beautiful woman who gives birth to a child who can be non other than Jesus. Thus the woman is Mary. A compelling case can be made that John has not shifted his attention away from the Ark of the Covenant but is in fact still describing it when he describes Mary. It makes sense that Mary would be described as the Ark of Covenant for she, like the Ark of old carries the very presence of God (Jesus) in her womb. She carries the presence of God in Israel every bit as much as did the ancient Ark. In fact she does so even more perfectly.
If this were the only place in the New Testament where Mary is described in this way, the whole interpretation might be dismissed as fanciful. Nevertheless Luke also describes Mary in this way (see next page) which helps give reinforcement to the idea that John here also intends for us to link Mary with the Ark of the Covenant.
Note the following similarities between the Ancient Ark of the Covenant and Mary’s Visit:
- David Arose and went…Mary arose and went
- David went from Baal up to Judah…Mary went from Nazareth up to the Hill country of Judah
- David says How can the Ark of the Lord come to me…Elizabeth says Who am I that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?
- David Dances before the ark…John the Baptist leaps (dances) for Joy in the womb of his mother.
- The text in 2 Sam 6 describe the cries of the people which accompany the ark…Luke describes the cry of Elizabeth for Joy.
All these similarities paint of picture. Luke wants us to recall a story of the Ancient Ark of the Covenant now retold in the context of a visit of Mary, the Mother of God. What the Ark of the Covenant was in the Old Testament (that which carried the presence of God in Israel) Mary is now in the New Covenant. The teaching is inescapable. Luke and the Holy Spirit want us to understand that Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant. The Ark has been found an it is Mother Mary. Note too an important contrast. When David brought the Ark up to Jerusalem there was great fear mixed in with the joy. In the new story however as Mary carries Jesus in her womb, mercy is front and center and there is only joy.