If we can dare to bring ourselves to imagine the scene of today’s very short Gospel what we would see is brutal and pitiful and ultimately heart-breaking. A young man in his thirties has been savagely nailed to huge pieces of wood, the irony being that those hands had been used to working with timber under the supervision of his earthly father. His body is stripped naked, his shame and torment laid quite literally bare for all to see. His garments have been passed on to one of his torturers for a throw of a dice. These garments, we are told, included a lovingly made tunic that had been skilfully woven in one piece. Who makes such a garment that takes so much time and attention, a mother? The mother who is drawing on every inch of her strength to remain in her dying sons eyeline? The woman who is braver than the tough young men who her son called friends and followers: they are all but gone, hiding in the shadows in case they are next. His Mother is supported by female friends and relatives. Did she tell them to help her remain to the end, that if she buckled or panicked they were to hold on to her if her legs and her will gave way?
Mary says very little that has been recorded for us to reflect on. You maybe surprised to know that in the Gospel of John she is referred to only twice, once at the wedding in Cana, Jesus’s first miracle, and here at the foot of the cross. And each time her name is not used, she is just spoken of as ‘Jesus’s mother’.
Here, outside the city walls there is no trace of the joyous and empowered Mary of Luke’s Gospel, who spoke with eloquence the words of the Magnificat. If you were a Bible scholar you would go straight to Luke’s Gospel to hear the voice of Mary of Nazareth. If you are a parent, dare I say a mother, you would go to these few mentions in John’s Gospel. Her words are not recorded but there is great faith, love and strength in her actions and her witness.
She knows well before the disciples, and John the Baptist, who her son is. She knows at the wedding in Cana that that is the moment Jesus needs to begin his ministry. She just knows, deep in her own faith, what he is capable of and so she tells the servants to do what he tells them. It is both at the wedding and here at the cross that Jesus refers to her as ‘woman’.
This is one of those times that the translation from Ancient Greek into modern English lets us down. The use of the word woman is not rude or disrespectful, Jesus uses it at other times when speaking to women; women’s names are rarely used in the pages of scripture. Through its use in both settings I think we are to make a connection to its use and Mary’s presence at both events. Clearly she was present before Jesus was born, at the inauguration of his ministry, and here at the cross. As Jesus entrusts her to the beloved disciple, and him to her, we see the connection between Jesus’s earthly ministry and its continuation onward into the church and building the Kingdom after his ascension.
One of the commentary’s I read about Jesus on the cross having care for his mother highlights the great divide between how Catholic and Protestant writers interpret its meaning. Catholic interpreters would emphasise the role of Mary in the scene; seeing her as Mother of the Church. Protestants, who have a panic about anything looking like Mary worship would emphasise the role of the beloved disciple at the cross as a symbol of the church and faithful discipleship. I as a good Anglican hold a middle view, I see Mary as a symbol of faithful discipleship. Mary was able to know and hold both parts of Jesus identity, he was man, flesh and blood and he was divine, God incarnate. She seems to have got all of this way ahead of anyone else, she supported him and loved him as both her son and as the messiah.
She kept the faith even though it meant losing her son. Peter had argued with Jesus not to let himself be taken; we see no evidence she tried to convince him otherwise. Peter denied Jesus and ran away, Mary did not. The last we hear of Mary is at the feast of Pentecost, praying with the others and ready to receive the Holy Spirit.
We are able as good Anglicans to be happier with having Mary about the place, she has been badly overlooked after the reformation as a great witness, a faithful disciple and selfless aide to the Lord.
We need to regain her without fear of all the other stuff that has been heaped on her.
A wise, strong and faithful woman, we should be very pleased both our buildings are dedicated to her.
But a word of warning, there are many reasons to try to imitate Jesus in our day to day life – but don’t dare call anyone ‘woman’, you are not God! Amen.
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