John 19:25b-27, Third Reading in the 7 Last Words of Christ
from Rev. Alice Rose Tewell from Good Friday service April 14, 2017, noon.
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.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.
“Woman, here is your son” “Here is your mother”
These are the words that have burrowed deep within my soul, starting their journey when I first became a mother about 3 and half years ago. After reading this passage many times, I’m still confused. How can Jesus address his mother as “woman?” It feels so harsh. Jesus Christ, the Son of Man, is saying this, yes, but also these words come from Mary’s beloved Son, the one whom she swaddled so carefully and played with in the manger.
The one when the angel of the Lord said, “Greetings, favored one! Do not be afraid! .. She is the one who first responded “Here I am!” and sang from her soul to the Lord. She sings in joy at the beginning of Jesus’ life – a joy mixed with fear and joy overpowered with hope and possibility.
But now on this Friday on the foot of the cross the pangs of the soul are different, a beating so heavy; I wonder how she keeps her body standing up right? Does she feel as though she is going to collapse herself in a heap — like bones — held up only by the power of the Spirit? How does she stand at the foot of the cross looking on at her Jesus, her son?
Her relationship with Jesus has always been different — we remember him at the age of 12 staying in the temple longer than he should — saying tersely to his mother — “Why didn’t you think to look for me at my Father’s house?” Or at Jesus’ first miracle the wedding at Cana and another terse response: “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.”
There relationship was different, loving but not sentimental. It is a relationship of mom and son but also of the Son of Man and a woman of great faith — a story of God and God’s most faithful one saying “Here I am.”
Some years ago from Stanley Hauwewas book on the 7 last words of Christ, I read the work of Catholic Bishop and counter-cultural advocate Raniero Cantalamessa, author of Mary, Mary: Mirror of the Church. Cantalemessaa, with strong roots in the Mary tradition, makes a fascinating observation that in Christian theology Jesus is associated with the new Adam, the new Moses, and the new David, yet Jesus is never associated with Abraham. Why is this case, he asks?
It is because Mary is our new Abraham.
Abraham is one who followed God’s call when all earthly standards told him to walk the other way. As we recall during the lighting of candles on Christmas Eve, even when both he and his wife Sarah were too old to conceive, God said that they would have descendants that number the stars. Then once they finally did bear their child Isaac, the child in whom all of their hopes and dreams are cast, we recall that deeply disturbing story when Abraham did not resist God’s command to take Isaac up that treacherous mountain to sacrifice his only son. God comes to both Isaac and Abraham’s rescue providing a ram in Isaac’s place.
But the case of Mary and Jesus their story is different. Like Abraham, Mary said “Here I Am,” to bear God incarnate, God who lived among us, God who lived both as divine and human suffering for and alongside us. But Mary’s “Here I Am,” could not save her son. And I think she knew that.
Here these words excerpted from Mary’s Magnificat months before she is to give birth: My soul magnifies the Lord… Surely from now on all generations will call me blessed…He has shown strength with his arm; He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted by the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
She, the mother, the woman, the one who perhaps knew Jesus best knew from her faith from her knowledge of God that this One — and this YES, Here I AM would be different.
But standing there on the foot of the cross, how could she have imagined that this is how she would see her son for the final time? She bore the pain of seeing her Son on that cross. She stood there as the soldiers divided his clothes. She stood there in danger to her own life; she couldn’t have known the outcome of being associated as the mother of Jesus. She stood there in her own grief, in her own agony in own anger perhaps and entered into the cross’ dark shadow. But even from the cross — this place of brutality and torture we hear the hope and love that comes from the reconciliation of Jesus.
“Woman, here is your son.”
Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.”
These are the words of connection. These are the words of community. These are the words of a new covenant for all of creation.
These are the words of covenant where family is no longer based on lineage on who your birth parents and blood family are. These are the words that begin the church.
From Mary, to the most beloved disciple, a new community, a new family, a new set of possibilities are shaped and put into practice.
This is where the church is the community transcends all boundaries, extending across generations, and across cultural norms of who should accept whom and who a person should accept into her own home.
This is the church where the disciple takes the risk on behalf of the one most in need, the most vulnerable —and in this case — the mother of Jesus, the mother of this one considered notorious by the authorities, who may have very well been marked as a threat too. This is the church where the disciple takes her into the safety and sanctuary of his own home. This is the church where the one who is the most vulnerable is the one of the greatest faith the one who already said “Here I am.”prompting the whole community to say “Here I am too.”
Here I am taking your pain as my pain.
your earth is my earth
your profiling is my profiling
your detention centers are my detention centers
your deportation is my deportation
your attack is my attack
your barrel bombs are my bombs
your victims are my victims
your dangerous boat ride is my boat ride
your razor wire fence is my razor wire fence
your famine is my famine
your desperation is my desperation
your death is my death
your life is my life
your faith is my faith
your faith is what prompts me to say yes in the midst of all fear.
Yes, I believe. And I believe in a new way of being a person, a community, and God’s church. “Here is Your Son.” “Here is Your Mother.” “Here I am.”