people on the edge of his pain
39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.'
Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.
The Crucifixion of Jesus
So they took Jesus; 17and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew* is called Golgotha. 18There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. 19Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, ‘Jesus of Nazareth,* the King of the Jews.' 20Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew,* in Latin, and in Greek. 21Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, ‘Do not write, "The King of the Jews", but, "This man said, I am King of the Jews." ' 22Pilate answered, ‘What I have written I have written.' 23When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. 24So they said to one another, ‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.' This was to fulfil what the scripture says,
‘They divided my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.'
25And that is what the soldiers did.
Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.' 27Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.' And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.
28 After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfil the scripture), ‘I am thirsty.' 29A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. 30When Jesus had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.' Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
Michelangelo's sculpture La Pietà, which is found in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, depicts Mary the Mother of Jesus with the body of her Son after it has been taken down from the cross. For many this has been an important image for prayerful meditation.
The person of Mary is unique in Christianity - even for those for whom Mary is not a significant feature of their spirituality. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition Mary is Theotokos (Mother of God) which attempts to emphasis the divine nature of Christ rather than suggesting divine status for Mary. We might also see Mary as the bearer of the Word (cf. John 1).
But Mary is also a mother. During this week - when we have marked Mothering Sunday - we think of Jesus' mother on the edge of his pain. But Mary's experience would have been like no other - a mother's grief, a mother's torment.
As she sat at the foot of the cross what must have passed through her mind? Perhaps she remembered the visit from the Angel Gabriel who came to her saying "hail Mary, full of grace". We often associate these words with Christmas time and assume that she is full of grace because of the promise, because she is greatly favoured. But were the words of the Angel in Nazareth also looking forward to this time of grief and redemption, when she would wait at the edge of His pain, when she would be a witness to saving acts of God in her Son?
Today, as we remember the Mother of our Lord, we also pray for all mothers, that they too may be filled with God's grace - especially those who endure great suffering and heartbreak.
Ikos (a short poem in the Orthodox tradition particularly for the Dead)
Seeing her own Lamb led to the slaughter, Mary His Mother followed Him with the other women and in her grief she cried: "Where dost Thou go, my Child? Why dost Thou run so swiftly?
Is there another wedding in Cana, and art Thou hastening there, to turn water into wine? Shall I go with Thee, my Child, or shall I wait for Thee? Speak some word to me O Word; do not pass me by in silence. Thou hast preserved my virginity, and Thou art my Son and my God"
(Small Compline of Holy Friday, Eastern Orthodox Church)
When Jesus came to Golgotha they hanged Him on a tree,
They drove great nails through hands and feet, and made a Calvary;
They crowned Him with a crown of thorns, red were His wounds and deep,
For of those where crude and cruel days, and human fl esh was cheap.
When Jesus came to Birmingham they simply passed him by,
They never hurt a hair of him, they simply let him die;
For men had grown more tender, and they would not give him pain
They only just passed down the street, and left him in the rain.
Still Jesus cried, "Forgive them, for they know not what they do,"
And still it rained the wintery rain that drenched him through and through;
The crowds went home and left the streets without a soul to see
And Jesus crouched against a wall and cried for Calvary.
A Mother Understands
(From The Unutterable Beauty: the Collected Poetry of G. A. Studdert Kennedy)
Dear Lord, I hold my hand to take
Thy body, broken here for me.
Accept the sacrifice and make
My body, broken, there, for thee.
His was my body, born for me,
Born of my bitter travail pain,
And it lies broken on the field
Swept by the wind and the rain.
Surely a Mother understands Thy thorn crowned head,
The mystery of Thy pierced hands - the Broken Bread.
Meditation - Monologue
It is difficult to put ourselves into the shoes of the Biblical characters. Each week there is a short monologue whose purpose is to help us do just that - to think about the character of the person and relate that person to our own time, culture and place.
I am silent, shocked.
You passed me by and I saw your eyes. Those deep pools of disappointment and despair. We have known each other from that fi rst moment of conception, that deep indwelling. That moment of divine encounter has brought us both to this. This place... of darkness and humiliation. How many mothers have travelled this road before, and how many must walk this way in times to come? My love, my heart.
I would take your place willingly, but know it cannot be. So I must again fall back into God's grace and be carried to this hill, which seems so steep.
I am haunted by your face, that I have fed and cleaned and wiped and loved. My dear Son, what will become of us. Such pain is indescribable, for both of us, and there are no tears now because they have already been drained and dried.
And yet I must pray.
Are tears prayers?
Then perhaps I have already said a thousand this day. We have lived so much with mystery, unknowing but accepting, rooted in a life directed by our life's source. O God, in the midst of this pain shape my weakness. I must seek your face always, reach into your unknowable ways and be sustained through this madness that surrounds me. We must do what God requires of us... both of us.
Questions for discussion
- Reflect on how you respond to Mary, the mother of Jesus. How important is Mary in your spirituality?
- Does the experience of motherhood offer a unique insight into the nature of Christian discipleship?
- We have many examples of a loss of a child, not least in current wars. How does your own understanding of parenthood and loss compare to Mary's loss?
- What does the experience of Mary's anguish and loss offer for those who long to experience being parents?
Grace us into understanding
Fill us with your Word made flesh
Shrink our certainties and enlarge our need of you
Unlock the dark places in our hearts
So that we might becomes wholly, completely yours
Grace us into loving and living and laughing
Your Kingdom come. Amen
Scripture taken from The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.