Witnesses of the Cross:
Mary reflects on Jesus’ life while standing at the foot of the cross
I’ve pondered Jesus’ extraordinary existence as both man and God since the very beginning, when Gabriel presented God’s will for my life. Mother to Messiah. I am still overwhelmed by it.
All through Jesus’ childhood and young adult years, I waited anxiously for him to reveal himself. How remarkable that he chose the wine at the wedding in Cana. And then he read the Messianic passages in Isaiah in our own temple in Nazareth. I was so proud! He had declared himself! But moments later, the crowd was pushing him to the edge of a cliff!
Always I have lived with the fear that my son would be killed. It’s been my companion for these thirty-odd years. I live with both the anticipation of his revelation and the dread of people’s resistance.
When he was little, the village women would remark how lucky I was that at least one of my sons was perfectly obedient. Other than some of his peculiar decisions (like staying behind in Jerusalem alone without telling me!), he was an easy boy to raise. But that’s what made it so hard! He was perfect and undeserving of hardship or ridicule. I wanted the best for him even more than I did for my other children, because he actually deserved the best! He deserved to be believed, but even his own brothers were a long way from doing that.
I don’t know how I expected his story to end, but it wasn’t Golgotha. I knew the Messiah should die for the people, but this–this day makes the prophecies too real for me. As Jesus writhes in agony, I recall a hundred fleeting memories of my life with him. I remember walking to the market with his little hand in mind, rocking him gently in the darkness of midnight, feeling his loving arms around my neck and little boy kisses brushing my cheek. It has always been difficult for me to reconcile those experiences with Isaiah’s prophecies about a “lamb to the slaughter.” Today, it all makes horrid, perfect sense.
I remember his fevers, bruised knees, and hurt feelings as his body slumps on the cross. At every excruciating breath, he must heave himself higher against the splintery beam. Huge spikes through his wrists and feet bear all the weight of his frame. Sweat and blood stream from his open wounds–the 39 brutal lashes laced around his back and chest, exposing ribbons of fleshless muscle and tissue that ooze and clot under the dirt and the flies.
His face–oh that sweet face with eyes that bore through deceit and shame and yet communicate infinite love–I hardly recognize him beneath the swelling and the blood. A horrid crown of thorns is crammed into his skull, mocking his claim to be the Son of God.
He is God. I know it better than anyone. With all the power in the universe at his command, he hangs there willingly. Inside I scream to him to release himself from the constraints of humanity. But even as I feel this, I can hear his response in my head, “I must be about my father’s business.”
It’s more than I can bear, and yet I can’t tear myself from the spot. More than once, I bury my head in John’s shoulder and weep. Even midst his suffering, Jesus is compassionate. “Woman,” he says lovingly, “behold your son.” Then his eyes travel to his dearest friend, “John, behold your mother.” Always thinking of us first. Always.
He hangs there naked, and I can’t cover him, exhausted and I can’t sing him to sleep, in agony and I can’t kiss him. I search for comfort, and I’m only left with this: He came to give life and give it more abundant.
It is an absolute necessity for a grieving mother to know that her son has not died in vain, that he is fulfilling his destiny. When he says, “It is finished” and releases his spirit, he isn’t leaving his mother’s aching arms. He is triumphantly returning to the arms of his Father, having conquered death, conquered hate, and conquered eternal damnation for all of creation.
That is love. “For God demonstrates his own love like this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8)
image by Petr Kratochvil