Drawn to Mary (12-03-21)
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 nearby, 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)
Simeon took the baby Jesus in his arms and praised God… The child’s father and mother marvelled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2. 28, 33 - 35)
At this time of year, I find it difficult to separate out my experience of Lent, Holy Week and Easter from Anna’s illness. The Sunday after she was diagnosed with a brain tumour was Mothering Sunday and the Sunday before she died three years later was also Mothering Sunday. These have become boundary markers, etched into my very being whether I like it or not.
On the first of these two Mothering Sundays, I went to church wondering how I would cope with the strange mix of emotions I was feeling: anxiety, disbelief and helplessness all came in waves. I was rescued by the gospel reading of the day - Mary and John at the cross. Up until this point, I had always thought it a rather dismal and negative reading for such a day. Here was another mother in distress, watching her child die. Yet, in the coming months, I found myself increasingly drawn to Mary, pondering what her life as the mother of Jesus had been like.
Mary had been warned by Simeon at Jesus’ birth, that motherhood would be painful, and a sword would pierce her very soul. Fast forward thirty years, and here we find her standing at the foot of a wooden cross, watching her son die an agonising and cruel death for crimes he did not commit. I was drawn not only to Mary in scripture but also in art. Three common artistic representations of Mary in art are the Stabat Mater - the mother standing at the cross; the Mater Dolorosa - the sorrowful mother grieving for her son; and the Pieta - the grieving Mary in pity cradling the dead body of Jesus after it had been taken down from the cross. Mary then received the risen Christ back from the dead, only to ‘lose’ him once more at the Ascension.
In reality, Mothering Sunday has always been a difficult day for some, and this year will be no exception. Many families will be separated for a second year due to lockdown, unable to hug their loved ones. Some will have lost mothers and other close relatives to Covid during the year. Some simply have broken relationships with their mothers. As a way of addressing pain and loss, I encourage you to spend time with Mary, reading about her in the Bible and looking at some of the images in music and art, both traditional and contemporary, and allowing God to speak comfort to you in new ways.
Loving Lord, open my eyes and my heart to understand in new ways pain and compassion, comfort and hope.