A Mother Remembers

Note: This is a sort of meditation I wrote as part of a series looking at stories from the gospels, a way of examining Jesus through the eyes of those around Him. Of course, it says as much–or more–about me than about anyone else, but I hope it resonates with others as well. The scene here is Mary, Jesus’ mother, looking back at the crucifixion in her old age. It seemed appropriate to post it now, as Good Friday approaches.


John leads Mary from the crucifixion

John leads Mary from the crucifixion

A Mother Remembers

I stood there and watched it all.  How could I not?  I, who had been there from the start, would be there to the bitter end.

As I stood there through the long, dark hours—made dimmer still by the tears that flowed slowly yet ceaselessly—I couldn’t help but remember, to see again all the times of hope, promise, and even fear, that now hung shattered on the crude wooden cross before me.

There was the fear and shock at finding out I was pregnant, even though that was impossible.  The long days of uncertainty wondering what Joseph would do, the joy when he, too, recognised that something new and wonderful was happening.  Then there were the months of waiting, feeling the changes in my body and the special, secret knowledge of a life growing inside.  The surprise and wonder of the quickening, that first faint kick that quickly became a regular and often uncomfortable part of my life.  And the birth—the pain and work that disappeared miraculously when I first saw him, first realized that this part of me was now his own being, a new person!  The feel of his skin that first time as I had put him to my breast and together we worked out how to nurse.

His skin was no longer soft or whole, but torn and bruised from what he had suffered that day.  All that promise of life and growth and discovery quickly fading, the promise dripping away with his life’s blood.

Cuts and scratches, skinned knees and bruises—so many through the years of his childhood for this inquisitive, active boy.  And I was there to wash them, bind them, heal them with love and a kiss.  But I couldn’t kiss him now, not until they took him down and by then he couldn’t know, couldn’t feel my arms around him one last time.  Oh, my arms ached to gather him to my breast once more, to make even this terrible pain go away!  It was so hard to stand there hour after hour feeling the emptiness in my arms, in my heart.  I remembered old Simeon’s words about how a sword would pierce my own heart and knew the truth of them.

It is the lot of most women, it seems, to outlive their husbands, to have to deal with that loss, but there is something wrong, unnatural, about a mother outliving a child.  My helplessness as I stood there took me back again to when he had become a man, a Son of the Law.  That year he came with us to the temple in Jerusalem for the first time as an adult.  When we started home and realised he was not with us we panicked.  Our eldest, the child of promise, a gift of God entrusted to our care and we had lost him.  For three days we searched, losing hope, before we found him.  How well I remembered those feelings, how all-encompassing, how total they seemed, yet how they were overshadowed by the feelings that flooded me there on that hill.  That was panic at the possibility of the loss of hope, now it was the emptiness of knowing for certain it was gone.  Then, we had kept going by holding on to what little hope was left, now…  well, what now?

And then slowly, almost imperceptibly, something odd, something different, began to make itself known through my grief.  It was still my son who hung there, he was still in the most extreme pain, and he was very clearly dying, but he wasn’t defeated.  There was just the barest hint that he knew something we didn’t, that there was more going on than we knew.  I didn’t really recognize the look at the time but looking back I know it—it is the look a woman gets at the height of her labour when the pain is at its worst but she knows her child is coming: not a denial of the pain, rather the knowledge that is not senseless but purposeful, something to be gone through for the joy that will follow.  But, of course, during those hours and, indeed the days that followed, we had no idea, no glimpse of that joy ourselves, no hint that it was even possible.

By late afternoon most of the crowds had gone.  Most of them had come to be entertained but all three of the men were now so far gone that taunting them no longer made any impression on them.  As the dying men fell silent, so too did the crowds, and then they melted away.  Finally they were just three small groups of family and friends around the crosses.  Some other women who had followed him stood with me, and his close friend John.  I think even they would have left if I had not been there, and they encouraged me to go.  But as I said, how could I leave?  I knew he saw me there and my presence was all I had left to give him.

Breathing was becoming so hard for him.  Each time he inhaled he had to lift his tortured body against the pain and weakness.  And then, right near the end, he struggled particularly hard for a deep breath and looking at me said, “Mother, behold your son.” At first I thought he was talking about himself, about what had been done to him—as if I hadn’t seen every cut and bruise!—but then I noticed that he was no longer looking at me but at John.  He took another painful breath and said to John, “Son, behold your mother.” That was almost too much for me, that as he was dying one of his last thoughts was for my well-being!  I couldn’t care for him but he was still caring for me.  But then, that was my son, always more concerned for others than for himself.

He didn’t say much more before he died.  At the very end he simply entrusted himself to God’s care then with a last pained cry, his body went limp and he was gone.  Shortly after that the soldiers came and broke the legs of the other men—an act of mercy really, as it meant they died in minutes instead of hours or even a few days—but when they came to Jesus it was obviously not necessary.  Instead, one of them pierced his side with a spear, just to make sure.

And still I stood there.  Waiting for I knew not what.  Had it all really come to this?  What of all the promises of his birth, were they mistakes, just empty words?  Where was there to go now anyway?

Just before sunset Joseph and Nicodemus came.  I didn’t know them, then, by John recognised them as members of the Judean authorities who had been interested in Jesus and his message.  Joseph explained that he owned a tomb nearby and that he had obtained permission from Pilate to bury Jesus there.  We were still in shock and denial and hadn’t even thought about burial yet.  If it were not for Joseph, I suppose my son’s body would have been thrown in a pauper’s grave or even just into the common refuse heap in the Hinnom valley.  Nicodemus even brought some of the ointments for the burial, though there wasn’t time to do everything properly.  Mary Magdalene promised me that she and the other women would redo the anointing properly after the Sabbath was over.

So his body was taken down and I got to hold him one last time.  Then they anointed his body, wrapped him in clean linen and carried him to the tomb.  They laid him there in the cave and removed the stone that was stopping the large circular rock from rolling down the groove to close the tomb.  The sound it made as it hit the stop was like a bell announcing the end of time.

But if it was the end of time, it was also the beginning of eternity, though we didn’t know it then.  When Mary Magdalene and the others came back Sunday morning and told us the authorities had moved the body, we assumed it was one more indignity heaped upon him.  And when they came back the second time and said they had seen him—alive!—we just

thought they were imagining it in their grief.  But then I saw him myself -Oh, what words can describe what I felt then?  Such joy and wonder!  And, as he talked with us, the beginning of a new understanding.

Yet it was bitter-sweet too.  This was my son, alive again, and yet no longer truly mine.  I knew I couldn’t hold on to him now, and he made it clear he would only be with us physically for a short while and then would be gone back to the Father.  So I had him back, but I didn’t.  I would lose him again, yet have him forever.

All this was so long ago, yet it feels like only yesterday.  So much has happened since, so many of his friends have followed him into death yet here I am still.  And John—he still takes care of me as Jesus asked.  But I do not think it will be for much longer, soon I will no longer be a burden to anyone.  I am looking forward to it, to seeing my son again.  My arms still long to hold him but somehow I think that when we meet this time it will be he who holds me, he who comforts me.  And that will be just fine with me.




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