SERMON REFLECTION ON ST MARY AT THE CROSS FOR GOOD FRIDAY 18th APRIL 2014
Given during the three hour Devotion at St Mary the Virgin, Primrose Hill as part of the Reader Trainee Lent Placement
John: 19 25b- 27a “Meanwhile standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.”
“Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer.”
Mothers are very special. Mine certainly was! I have so much to thank my late mother for. She was always at my side when I needed her. She was there during the difficult times as well as at times of achievement. I knew I could rely on her support whether it was to guide me through a particular dilemma or to share times of joy. Mary was that kind of mother too. She cared and supported her son through the good times and the bad.
The text I have chosen for this reflection describes a small family gathering at the foot of the Cross. They are there to support a member of their family who is in desperate need of their earthly love at this moment in time. Possibly other families did the same when crucifixions were taking place.
But in our case we have Mary, the mother of Jesus, her sister, Jesus’s aunt, who was named Salome, another Mary married to Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. Four women watching the events unfold as their relative and friend dies a horrific and humiliating death. What makes it worse for the women is that they all know he was innocent of the accusations made against him. Mary remained the ever loving and caring mother needing to be with her child until the very end. There may be among my listeners today those who have been present when their own child has died through illness or an accident. My sympathies go out to you. Not having experienced a situation like that myself, I cannot possibly imagine what it could be like. Perhaps the closest I have been to such an experience was attending the funeral of a young woman who had been murdered who I had first got to know as a three year old and later as one of my Brownies.
What I find particularly moving is that Mary is supported by her sister, Salome. Here is a close and loving family – a mother wanting to be with her son and an aunt wanting to support her sister and nephew. How often do we see on Television News items after a young person has been unlawfully killed, similar family groupings coming together to support each other.
God chose Mary to be the mother of his son because he knew she would not let him down, she would remain the perfect mother. Mary is not mentioned many times by name in the Gospels but when she does it is always at a significant point in Jesus’s ministry. To fully appreciate the significance of Mary at the Cross we have to go back to when we are first introduced to her and follow the mother/son relationship developing. As a young girl, Mary was visited by the Angel Gabriel to be told she has been chosen to be the mother of God’s Son. She is ecstatic with joy but at the same time appreciating the huge task she is being asked to do.
Anyone entering this building today by the King Henry’s Road door would have noticed a carving above the door as they approached the entrance. I wonder how many took a moment to look at the carving as they entered. The carving is showing Mary receiving the news from the Angel Gabriel. She sits in a thoughtful pose taking in what has just been revealed to her. The message having sunk in she travels to see Elizabeth. She cannot text, email or use her mobile, she has to go in person to tell Elizabeth the news. When the two women meet Mary is bursting with excitement:
Mary’s maternal instinct can be seen again at the birth of Jesus when she creates a make-shift cradle out of a manger and makes sure her new born baby is kept warm and cosy by giving him straw to lie on. According to Jewish custom, Jewish parents, take their son to the Synagogue and Mary and Joseph were no exception. Simeon, the Priest who greeted them at the Synagogue, with the words “A sword will pierce your soul.” Little did Mary know at that time in what form this prophecy would take.
It is when Jesus is twelve on the family visit to Jerusalem visiting the Temple that we again see the maternal side of Mary appearing. Here she is dealing with a typical young man about to become a teenager. When his parents eventually find him after three days searching Mary scolds him: “Why have you treated us like this. Your father and I have been anxious about you.” And we know the answer Jesus gives referring to the Temple as his father’s house. Are the three days Jesus is lost before re-emerging, more than a co-incidence of the three days prior to the Resurrection? Commentators certainly think there is an association.
We do not hear any more of the family for another twenty years. An interesting observation is made by Verna J. Dozier the author of the book “The Dream of God” studied by this parish for the Lent Course this year. She suggests that maybe the reason why Jesus waited so long before he started his ministry was because he was at home looking after his widowed mother after the death of his earthly father, Joseph. He may well have been keeping the carpentry business going too for the family to have funds to survive?
Mary is at Jesus’s side when he carries out his first miracle at the wedding at Cana. She is confident that her son can help despite him saying his time had not yet come. “Whatever he tells you do, do it.” We are reminded in the Gospels that Mary remained the ever faithful mother by keeping her thoughts to herself throughout as to whom her son really was.
And now our story of Mary has arrived back at the foot of the Cross. Are you surprised there is no mention of the disciples being at the foot of the Cross with her? Perhaps you have just assumed they were? Jesus foretold the disciples earlier in John’s Gospel that they will desert him when he needs them the most. However, there seems to be one who has turned up at foot of the cross. It is touching that Jesus’s concern even as he is dying was that his mother should not be left destitute after his death. He wanted to make sure she would be well looked after. Interestingly the Oxford Bible Commentary suggests that the Mary mentioned who is married to Clopas might be the mother of James and John Zebedee. In Mark’s Gospel there is the suggestion they were related to Salome, Mary’s sister. If this were true then Jesus’s request would make it a family affair. However, the Commentary goes on to say that other biblical references do not necessarily support this idea. So we are left with the idea that Jesus was actually speaking to a disciple who he especially respected and felt was able to offer his mother a comfortable lifestyle in her old age.
Artists and composers over centuries have drawn inspiration from seeing Mary at the foot of the cross. I am thinking particularly of the Pieta of Michelangelo – a sculpture in St Peter’s Rome – Mary cradling her dead son in her arms in a manner resembling how she would have held him as a baby. Composers, Vivaldi and Rossini to name but two, have been inspired to put the Latin Hymn, The Stabat Mater, to music. The opening lines of the English translation are:
The mother stood sorrowing
by the cross, weeping
while her Son hung there;
Whose soul, lamenting,
sorrowing and grieving,
has been pierced by the sword.
O how sad and afflicted
was that blessed
Mother of her only-begotten Son.
Who wept and grieved
and trembled to behold
the torment of her glorious child.
What man would not weep
if he saw the Mother of Christ
in such torment?
In Church today we are all standing at the foot of the Cross beside Mary. Being here today we have not deserted Christ when he needs us the most. We have remained with him to acknowledge what his death means to us – a ransom paid for our sins. Our Saviour!