Good Morning – on this the day before Easter Sunday!I am not writing a separate Bible Study this morning, but am including one of my messages from yesterday’s Good Friday service. We had a good turn-out, and pastors from 6 churches in our ecumenical service. Each talk was on one of the Seven Last Words Jesus spoke from the cross.
John 19: 25b – 27
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.
It is nearing the end of Jesus’ time in his human incarnation – you might say he is getting his affairs in order. The other disciples have run away, but John, we assume John is the disciple whom Jesus loved, although the gospel of John never really identifies him, as it also never calls his mother Mary; John has stood by through the long hours on the cross; and the women, they had not run away; they had stayed to witness all that happened. Their witness was important – they would report everything, eye-witnesses that they were. They would tell how Jesus struggled to breathe, how every word he spoke was agony, how his blood ran down over his feet, how at the end the earth shook and the sky went dark. They would watch when Joseph of Arimathea took his body down from the cross – watch him lay it in a nearby tomb and roll the stone over the opening.
But one of those women, one of those witnesses to all the brutality of crucifixion, was his mother. As a mother, I both wonder at her decision to witness all that, and understand why she felt she had to do so. She had to be there, to provide whatever comfort she could, through the long hours of agony. Having seen mothers beside hospital beds, I can imagine that her friends tried to get her to go home, to rest for a little time, and I can hear her saying, “No, I must be here.”
There is a song that is sung at Christmas time – remember this?
Mary, did you know
that your Baby Boy would one day walk on water?
Mary, did you know
that your Baby Boy would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know
that your Baby Boy has come to make you new?
This Child that you delivered will soon deliver you.
But how could Mary know that she would see her child on a cross? She remembered when he was a tiny baby, when they dedicated him at the temple; the old man in the temple, Simeon, said a sword would pierce her soul. He was certainly right about that! This day was a sword piercing her soul!
She remembered him as a boy – always well behaved, but somehow always loved by the other children. He was a leader this son of hers! She had seen that as the crowds gathered to hear him speak. She had followed those last few months, staying near the other women who followed and provided for him and his disciples. She had watched as the multitudes came to hear him; she had been there when he rode into the city with palm branches waving – what a glorious day! She had hoped then, and feared, as she saw the jealousy and anger on the faces of the religious leaders who also watched. And as the crowds gathered for the feast of Passover, she had heard the marching boots of the Romans. The powerful were aligning against her son.
On this day, she had watched as the soldiers there at the cross gambled for his clothes, spoils of war they considered them; but these were clothes she had made for him – the wool of his cloak she had sheared from the sheep, and carded out strong and fine, and spun into thread, and died with her own special die made from plants she gathered, and then she had woven it and sewn it into a fine cloak. She could still feel the softness of the wool in her hands. It had served him well these three years! And the seamless garment they threw their dice over – she had woven that as well, and given it to him when he left home that day.
She remembered the resolve on his face that day. He was going out to see his cousin John in the wilderness – but God was calling him to something greater. They had both known that day would come, when he had to follow his calling. She had wept that day, but not until after he had gone. When she saw him again, he seemed different; there was an authority about him – that day he spoke in the synagogue there in Nazareth and they tried to throw him off the cliff! He had challenged those in power from the beginning. And it had brought him to this.
He had told the disciples that he must die – she had heard him say it – that his death would be redemption, not just for the Jews, but for the Gentiles as well. They did not understand – but she remembered the words of Simeon – she had always known that it would be painful for her at the end. But perhaps this was not the end? How would God redeem the world through this cruel death? Could it be that he would truly rise? He had said that as well; he would rise on the third day. She held tightly to that tiny piece of hope.
But now – he was concerned for his mother. He was dying, but he was concerned for his mother! He had other brothers and sisters, but they would demand that she return to Nazareth, and he knew she would want to be with the new family he was forming, even now. And so, he spoke to John, the disciple whom he loved, and told him to consider her his mother from that day on. And he also spoke to her, and told her to consider him her son. She knew and loved the youngest disciple; they all knew that Jesus loved him and he was devoted to Jesus. He would need comfort – his leader and mentor and friend would be gone. Yes, he would need a mother, and she could be a mother to him. When she left the cross, it was with a new purpose.
Mary was there, in the Upper Room when the Resurrected Jesus appeared to the disciples – she did see her Son return. And she was among those in the Upper Room on the day of Pentecost, when the Spirit empowered all those present. She did see how God could use even Jesus’ cruel death to redeem the world. It is said that Mary and John went to Ephesus when the church in Jerusalem was scattered, and that Mary lived to old age. There is a house there said to be Mary’s house. I hope to travel to Ephesus this fall, and see that place. That day when he was crucified was a horrible day, but it was not the last day; it was not the end. In Christ, the worst thing is never the last thing. God had something better coming!
Perhaps that is what we are meant to learn from Mary’s story – there has never been a greater heartbreak than that Mary endured on that day – but God redeemed even the pain of that day. The worst thing is never the last thing. Even from our worst times, if we but turn to God, he can redeem them, and bring something good from them.
Would you pray with me:
Jesus, we know that you are concerned with those who suffer, with those who grieve. Help us to have compassion, as you do, for the suffering and the grieving, the outcast and the sinner. Help us to find redemption in even the darkest hour, to allow you to change the bad to good. Amen.