Saturday, 15 December 2018

What do you think of Mary? (2)

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing near by, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son”, and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. John 19:25-27

They [the apostles] all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers. Acts1:12-14

Last time I invited us to check if we might be guilty of, in effect, airbrushing Mary out of the gospel story - afraid, perhaps, of allowing unbiblical and even superstitious ideas about her to creep in. I suggested that as long as we limit ourselves strictly to what the New Testament actually says, there is a lot we can learn from Mary’s life and experience.

I aimed to focus on four “snapshots”, but I only had space for two: first, Mary the ecstatic young mother-to-be; and second, Mary the middle-aged woman, anxious, troubled and even perhaps doubting what Jesus was doing. These snapshots speak to us about the highs and lows of being a child of God.
Now for snapshots 3 and 4.

Snapshot 3 is Mary in emotional torment at the cross (John 19:25-27).

Of the four Gospels, only John explicitly mentions her as being present at the crucifixion. He doesn’t dwell on what must have been going on in her heart and mind, but it doesn’t take a lot of imagination...

Standing in a little bunch of Jesus’ followers, she has the unspeakably horrible experience of looking up and watching her son slowly tortured to death.

I imagine that the thought of anybody being tortured appals and horrifies us; but to witness this happening to someone you deeply love - well, there are no words to express it, are there?

When Jesus was a new-born baby, brought by Joseph and Mary for blessing in the Jerusalem temple, the godly old man Simeon had spoken a word of prophecy about his destiny. And he had added a word too for Mary: “And a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2:35). What that “sword” might mean in practice Simeon didn’t say; but surely this terrible moment must have been the deepest cut of all.

Can this part of Mary’s experience apply in any way to us?

I think so. It reminds us that there is a cost to following Jesus. Yes, Mary knew exhilarating joy; but she also knew excruciating pain. And there may be times when we too find that the cost of discipleship is almost more than we can bear.

Isn’t this why Jesus told his disciples to “count the cost” of following him? Isn’t this why he told them they must “take up their cross” to follow him (Luke 14:27-28)?

Keep well away from people who teach that true followers of Jesus should experience nothing but joy, health, wealth and happiness! They are wrong, and it’s time they read their Bibles!

And let’s be careful about praying, “Lord, I will go wherever you want me to go, and do whatever you want me to do, and give whatever you want me to give” - yes, be careful, for he might just take us up on those fine words, and we might get rather more than we bargained for...

And so to Snapshot 4: Mary secure and at peace in the body of the infant church (Acts 1:12-14).

Luke, the writer of Acts, doesn’t make much of this. But he does choose to mention it, and I am very glad of that - that after the resurrection of Jesus, and before the momentous coming of the Holy Spirit, Mary was there in the “upper room” in Jerusalem where Jesus’ followers gathered. Yes, Mary became a founder-member of the church to which we belong today.

This shouldn’t surprise us. For one of the most beautiful details we are given about the crucifixion is that, as death approached, Jesus committed his mother to the care and protection of “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 19:25-27). And so she was surely also there at Pentecost, and took her place among the first believers.

We are reminded of how vitally important the church is. Jesus didn’t found it for nothing! It is his “body”; it is the family of God; it is God’s chief instrument in bringing his love, peace and hope to the whole world; and in it we are all equal, all brothers and sisters, whether modern twenty-first century Christians or the very mother of Jesus.

Do you value your membership of this wonderful family?

Yes, I love to picture Mary enfolded to the heart of this group of people. I don’t imagine for one moment that they ever referred to her (as did my college tutor) as “Our Lady” or, even more, that they ever directed prayers to her. But I am sure they loved, honoured, cherished and respected her.

Should we do anything less?

Father, thank you for Mary’s willingness to be simply “the servant of the Lord”. Thank you for keeping her through joy and pain until you took her to be eternally with you. Grant, I pray, that the same destiny will be mine. Amen.

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