Of course she was there. With her sister and her friend. Watching the long, slow, agonising death of her special son.
What did it mean for her to be standing there, amidst the mocking and the taunting and the jeering? Watching the soldiers divide his clothes among them? Hearing him cry out for a drink?
During Jesus’s life on earth, Mary had had a very special relationship with her son. We know more about her side of the relationship than we know about his.
His birth had been promised to her by an angel. When she had heard the news, she was, of course, greatly troubled. She was a young girl and she was to become pregnant with the Son of God! But the angel told her not to be afraid and Mary responded: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38). From that moment, she welcomed this special son.
We only have a few snapshots of Mary’s relationship with Jesus:
- When he was born and the shepherds visited the manger, sharing their stories with Mary and Joseph, Mary ‘treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart’ (Luke 2:19). Why had angels appeared to the shepherds to announce his birth?
- When Mary and Joseph presented Jesus in the temple, Simeon blessed them and he told Mary: ‘a sword will pierce through your own soul also’ (Luke 2:35). This was more to ponder. What did it mean? What lay ahead for her, for him, for them?
- When Jesus was 12 and remained in Jerusalem after Mary and Joseph had left, they had to retrace their steps and they found him in the temple, chatting with the teachers who were there. Mary ‘said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them.’ (Luke 2:48-50). To our ears, this sounds almost like a rebuke from her not-yet-a-teenager son. But we read that ‘he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart’. It was more to think about.
- At the wedding in Cana, when they ran out of wine, Mary went and told Jesus the problem, but he said to her ‘ “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” ‘ (John 2:4-5). Again, it seems that Jesus almost rebuffs Mary – but her trust in him is implicit – “Do whatever he tells you.”
- One day, when Jesus was engaged in his public ministry, Mary and her other sons went looking for him. He was told they were outside, desiring to see him but he said: “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” (Luke 8:21). It must have seemed to Mary that he was keeping his distance from her and his brothers.
Mary’s relationship with this son of hers must have given her plenty to ponder, plenty to wonder about.
But, like any mother would do, she stood at his cross and broke her heart. This baby she had brought into the world in such miraculous circumstances, this child who had such wisdom, this young man who had turned water into wine, who had healed the sick and raised the dead, this miracle-worker, this healer, this preacher, this teacher – was her beloved son.
No son should die before his mother. And no mother should have to watch her son die, especially like this.
And so she stood at the cross, supported by her sister and her friend, determined to stay till the bitter, bitter end.
She heard every word he said – what we have come to call the Seven Words of the Cross:
-When he spoke to his Father about those who were crucifying him: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34).
– When he spoke to the dying thief hanging beside him: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43).
-When he cried out with a loud voice: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34).
-When he said simply: “I thirst.” (John 19:28).
-When he uttered those climactic words: “It is finished,” (John 19:30).
-When he finally relinquished his spirit: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:36).
But there were words which were specifically spoken to his mother Mary. We are told that ‘standing by 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 nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.’ (John 19:25-27).
As the soldiers laughed and divided his clothes among them, Jesus must have seen and heard them while he struggled to draw a breath. But he also saw his mother Mary, standing with her sister and her friend. Some of his last words were reserved for her: ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ and to John he said ‘Behold, your mother!’. He wanted to make sure his mother had someone to care for her. He chose ‘the disciple whom he loved’, the one who had been close to him, the one who had sat beside him at the Last Supper, one of the three who had gone with him to the Garden of Gethsemane, the one he knew he could trust to look after his mother.
If Mary had ever wondered about Jesus’s love for her, she knew in that moment that he loved her.