Reflections from Mary, the Mother of Jesus on the passion, adapted from the Gospel of Luke (Luke 22:14-23:56)
Even now, I can’t help but remember those days. At the time I thought I would never forget one single, horrible moment, one thought, one feeling, one word. But you know, it’s true, time does (mercifully) take the sharp razor’s edge from unbearable pain, makes it tolerable. But there are things I remember, moments that are burnt into my mind and my heart. Mostly things about him, my beloved son, the child that came to his father and me as a gift from God and who through-out his life never did stop both mystifying and teaching me. But my feelings during those awful hours as he suffered and finally died? Yes, I still remember and can call it all back in a heartbeat….
My sense of unease had been building through those last few weeks; mother’s intuition sensed that all was not well. He had pushed the establishment, powerful people, too far. I wanted to protect him, to tell him to stop…but to stop what? Stop doing what he seemed so clearly called to do? Stop being who he was?
We gathered that last night at the Mount of Olives. Jesus asked us to stay awake while he prayed. He seemed worried, sad, as he prayed, and I prayed for his safety as I watched. Finally, after a long time, he went to find his friends, and of course, they were sleeping. (My feelings flared then!) I was angry and wondered how they could be so thoughtless. But Jesus was gentle with them, as he often was when they would have tried my patience beyond endurance. He simply asked them why they slept, and asked them to pray for their OWN deliverance.
But their sleeping was nothing to what happened next; a crowd of people suddenly appeared from the darkness, and Judas, Jesus’ friend, just walked up to my son and kissed him. “What on earth?” I wondered, but Jesus looked right into his eyes and said, “Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?” Well, total chaos broke out .Peter was flailing around with his sword, and I have to admit, I found myself wishing more of us had weapons. In the confusion a slave’s ear was cut off! But Jesus told them to stop, and they did. He healed the slave’s ear. My heart was breaking; I was so proud of him, and so terrified. He stood bravely in front of them all and asked them why they came after him as though he were a dangerous criminal? He reminded them he had been with them every day, and they hadn’t arrested him. Then he said something that stopped my tears, nearly stopped my heart: “But this is your hour, the hour of the power of darkness!”
When they took him to the high priest. I stayed as close as I could. (My eyes caught his), sending him love, courage. But Peter and his other friends kept their distance. I heard Peter say to three different people that he wasn’t with Jesus, didn’t even know who he was. That made me so angry. The last time he said it, Jesus turned and caught Peter’s eye, and something passed between them in that moment, that made Peter run away in tears. Peter told me later that Jesus had predicted he would betray him. “He told me I would deny I ever knew him, not once but three times, and I simply would not believe that I could ever do that to him,” he said, “But the Teacher knew my heart, just as he always did.”
My next memory is of them making fun of Jesus and beating him. It is a mother’s nightmare to see her son being treated this way. I felt such rage, such helpless fury as I watched them blindfold him; call him names, even spit on him. I couldn’t bear to stand there and watch, but I couldn’t bear to leave either. So I stayed, weeping silently as the other women held me, grieved with me.
I did not sleep that night, and in the morning, they took him to the Chief Priest and the questions started. So many questions! But Jesus was calm as he answered, turning their own words back on them, refusing to be trapped, yet never, ever denying his truth. But even as I was so fiercely proud of him, I wanted to hush him; get him away from there. When the Chief priest asked, “Are you the Son of God?” and my son said to him, “You say that I am,” I knew then, in that moment, that things had turned some awful corner. I knew it, even before I heard the Chief priest confirm it, even before they decided to take him to Pilate (so they could make him part of this hateful process, too, before we could take the next step on this awful journey).
Pilate had more questions! He asked my son if he was the ‘king of the Jews’ and he answered, “You say so,” which I thought was a good answer. Then Pilate said something that gave me a glimmer of hope, “I find no basis for an accusation against this man.” I breathed then for the first time in a long while. I looked around me at my neighbors and friends, expecting that they too would see that Jesus was innocent and that this ridiculous charade could be done with! But they avoided my eyes. They were so vicious, so self-righteous, and kept insisting that Pilate take action against Jesus. I felt so confused, so desperate. How had this happened? These were the people I thought I knew, that knew me, knew us, but not now. Now they were a mindless crowd, angry, out for blood. After what seemed like forever, Pilate again said he could find nothing Jesus had done that deserved death, so he was going to have my son flogged and released. I breathed again then. While of course I did not want to see my son hurt any more, to see him in pain, if it would take a flogging to end this, I knew he could endure that. Then Mary and I could take him home, tend his wounds; we would have a meal, it would be ok, maybe. (I could see it all there for just a moment.)
But then the raging noise of the crowd broke through my thoughts. Pilate’s words had only upset them even more. Someone shouted out for another prisoner to be released, not my son, and the crowd roared its approval. And when Pilate asked them what he should do with Jesus, the next words I heard were beyond those of my worst nightmare. This crowd, these animals were screaming (she sobs) “Crucify him, crucify him!”
I tried to breathe. I tried to reason with those standing nearest to me, but I don’t think they even heard me. And in the end, they prevailed. Pilate released the murderer, and my son was sentenced to the (ugliest, lowest) most horrible death imaginable-death by crucifixion
I remember the crowd that followed him up that hill; a lot of them just onlookers, gawkers, but some were there who really cared, like my friend, Simon, who helped him carry that hideous cross, and our women friends who began wailing and beating their breasts in love and mourning, and never let up the whole way there.
That walk, every step, seemed to go on forever, and yet we arrived in a heartbeat, at that place called The Skull, where it was to end. I watched it all, his pain, his agony, the brutality of that death. I held his eyes in mine and never looked away. I have to admit, his heart was so much more forgiving than mine towards the soldiers who cast lots to divide up his clothing, to the ones who scoffed and taunted/mocked him. Even the criminals hanging alongside him could not just let him be! One of them kept calling out, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” The other one finally shouted for him to “Shut up! They were getting what they deserved, but Jesus had done nothing wrong.” Then he said something I will never forget, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
My feelings were a torrent of love and grief for my son, anger and bewilderment. How has it come to this? My child, my loved one, born of the Spirit, is dying on a hot dusty hill between two criminals. Despair flooded through me right then. It all seemed so pointless. I wanted to lash out with all the hate and pain in my heart. And then I heard him praying to his Abba Father, praying for the men who were killing him, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” My child, not just my beloved, but God’s too….in this awful death, he was still giving life.
Noon finally came on that endless, endless day and I continued to keep vigil at the foot of that torturous cross. It was very strange; it got dark suddenly, right in the middle of the day, the sun’s light dying as he was. Then, finally, after hearing nothing for a long while I heard his voice, ringing loud and clear one last time, “Father-God, into your hands I commend my spirit.” I looked up, desperate to look into his eyes one last time, fighting off my despair, to give him the last ounce of love within me. And then, he breathed his last.
I don’t remember a lot that happened after that. I know there was a centurion there, who saw it all; he praised God and said, “Certainly this man was innocent.” And I remember Joseph went to Pilate and was given permission to collect the body. I was so relieved that we could take him from there before the carrion came. So Joseph, the women and I gently removed the broken body of the man I bore and raised, from the nails and wood of that horrible cross. We rubbed his skin with ointments, smoothed his hair, wrapped him in cloth with burial spices, placed him gently in the new tomb, and left him there where no one had been buried before.
Funny how little details remain, after all the blurring of time. I remember, as we finished the Sabbath was just beginning. So, all the Sabbath day we rested, but there was no rest from my broken heart and my grief.
Jesus, my son, was dead.
This reflection is part one of a three part series titled The Mary Passions. The Mary Passions take the biblical text for the Passion of Christ, the anointing of Jesus’ feet, and the resurrection and reimagine them through the lens of Mary, the mother of Jesus (Palm Sunday); Mary of Bethany (Maundy Thursday); and Mary Magdalene (Easter).
These reflections were inspired by The Rev. Terri C. Pilarski, and written in collaboration with The Rev. Dr. Kate Hennessy-Keimig (Palm Sunday reflection) and The Rev. Anne Wolf Fraley (Easter morning reflection). Terri Pilarski wrote the Maundy Thursday reflection.
The Rev. Dr. Kate Hennessy-Keimig is a priest in the Diocese of Minnesota who works bi-vocationally as a psychotherapist.
The Rev. Anne Wolf Fraley is a priest in the Diocese of Tennessee.
The Rev. Terri C. Pilarski is a priest in the Diocese of Michigan and the Rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Dearborn, MI.
Carolyn Blackmore offered the reflection at Christ Church at the 10am service on Sunday, March 24, 2013.