Amongst the chocolates and the flowers and all the other stuff in the shops this week, there didn’t seem to be much reflection on the profound nature of motherhood.
In the Gospels, the story of the experiences of the Blessed Virgin Mary cuts to the heart of anyone who says they are a Christian. The story of the crucifixion places Mary a few yards from the Cross. If the story of Mary is followed through the Gospels her heart must have been broken as she stood there at Calvary.
As Mary stood there, think of the memories she would have recalled. The angel Gabriel coming to her when she was hardly more than a girl, “Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.” “Do not be afraid, Mary”, says Gabriel, “You have found favour with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”
As Mary stood there at Calvary, those words would have gone through her head again and again.”His kingdom will never end”, how could this be? How could such words, such hope, end at this place of death?
In Mary’s mind, she would have recalled the happy months she spent with her cousin Elizabeth before the child was born. What had Elizabeth said? “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!” Mary must have wept at the memories of those happy days when she looked at the terrible sight before her. What had happened that her Son should undergo such suffering?
Mary would have remembered the night he was born: no fine lodging, but a dirty stable in a strange city; the visits by the strangers to see the child; the ride down into Egypt to preserve her new son’s life. She would have remembered each moment as if it was yesterday.Those words of old Simeon would have come back to her as well. When they had gone to the Temple when Jesus was forty days old he had said, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” The sword pierced deep into Mary’s soul as she stood there at Golgotha, the place of the skull.
Mary would have thought back on the moments of astonishment, the moments when the wonder of Jesus was revealed: the time in Jerusalem when he was twelve years old, when they left the city without him and had returned days later to find him deep in discussion with the most learned men of the land; the wedding at Cana of Galilee when the wine ran out. Mary had seen no miracles yet, but she had no doubt that Jesus would turn the water into wine. There were many moments of astonishment.
There were even moments when she thought he had gone too far, the time that she and his brothers had gone to bring him home. Mary stood there hour upon hour, listening to the voices around her; the cries of pain, the shouts and the curses from the crowd and the soldiers. Mary stood and watched and listened.The disciple whom we believe to be John, the Gospel writer, stood there with her. They could do nothing, they could say nothing.In his agony, Jesus looks at her and says to her, “Dear woman, here is your son,” and to John he says, “Here is your mother.” And from that time on, John took Mary to his own home.
To be nailed to a cross and left to hang there while you slowly asphyxiated is a horrifying thought. No-one would want to witness such a dreadful execution, yet Mary is prepared to go and stand at Calvary, perhaps she could do nothing but she would not leave Jesus to die alone, she would not desert him. Even if everyone else had gone, she would have still stood there. Jesus knows what great love his mother has for him and has great love for her. She has remained faithful right to the end and, in the middle of these events which are going to change the world, he is anxious she is cared for.
On Mothering Sunday it’s appropriate that we remember Mary. Her love for Jesus was a mother’s love for her Son. Mary’s heart would have been broken, her soul cut through, but she stands there because she loves Jesus. In the story of Mary we have an example of what true love, true commitment means, to continue to believe, to continue to have faith, when everything else has gone.