“Mary, Mary!” The muffled voices from outside came at her, first as a dream, then piercing through her chest.
She sat up, gasping for air. She knew. Quickly she dressed and went to the door. It was so dark as she fumbled with its latch, working against the franticness of her friends outside. Finally, it gave way.
“Oh Mary! They’ve arrested him! Jesus has been arrested!” Mary Magdalene fell instantly into her arms burying her head against Mary’s cheek, filling her nose and mouth with the smell of stale perfume, sweat and fear. Mary’s heart pounded as she looked up past the woman’s head and into Johns’ eyes, who stood slumped and small in the threshold, hoping to find some different answer to her unspoken questions. But his face – pale, sweaty and shaking with the rest of him – only confirmed Mary’s cries.
It had begun.
As they hurried along the streets of Jerusalem, Mary realized she hadn’t packed Jesus any food. He would probably be hungry, she thought, I’m sure he hasn’t slept. I could have fed him something before his trial. She chided herself for her mistake. She remembered how, as a child, his growling stomach would wake him every morning. My, how it amazed her! And here she was going to him with nothing to offer when of all days, surely he would be famished. Oh my Yeshua, I am so sorry!
By the time they tracked down Jesus’ whereabouts, Mary realized with sickening dread that her worry over food before his trial was for naught. There was no trial. Or whatever sort of sham trial there was, had been held illegally during the night without anyone available to testify on behalf of her son. Mary and her companions turned to walk through gate of the governor’s palace and instead of finding men preparing for court, Mary saw her son standing on a platform, bloodied and beaten nearly beyond recognition. He wore a tangle of thorny vines pushed down upon his head and a gaudy purple robe hung from his frame, stained with his blood. His hair was matted to his face and his eyes were almost swollen shut. He was standing on display to a crowded court of chief priests and spectators.
Mary stopped short, grabbed her friends and pulled them against the back wall.
“That is not Jesus.” She gasped, searching wildly into the faces of her friends. “There must be a mistake. Where is my son?” She stared at John trying to will a favorable answer from him with her eyes.
“Mary…” he garbled, choking back his own emotion.
Mary shook her head and looked up to the dawning sky, “Yahweh! My son, my son! That is my baby up on display, nearly dead already! Please let me – I will take his place. Yahweh! Listen to me!”
She rolled into the stone wall, leaning her face against it, feeling roughness against her cheek. She smelled its cold harshness as the crowd jeered beyond her at her son.
“I will stay and be strong,” she mumbled into the wall, then turned to face her friends. “Only please, do not leave me.” They pulled her close and together as one, moved into the center of the crowd.
Pilate came out and said to the Jews, “Look, I find no basis for a charge against this man.”
“Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”
But Pilate answered, “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.”
“If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar,” yelled the chief priests. “Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.”
At this, Pilate hung his head. He walked to the judgment seat and sat slowly upon it.
“Here is your king,” he said pointing to Jesus
“Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!
“Shall I crucify your king?” he asked, desperate for a way out.
“No!” screamed Mary. But her pleas were drowned by the ranting caustic crowd.
“We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests responded. “Crucify! Crucify!”
Finally, Pilate handed Jesus over to be crucified.
The soldiers took charge of him. Carrying his own cross, Jesus went out to Golgotha. As he walked, the crowds followed – some to ensure of his destruction, some out of voyeuristic curiosity, and one determined to see her son through.
“I will not leave you, my Yeshua,” she said as he struggled past her with his cross on his back. He looked at her through swollen eyes and smiled, though she could not see it through her own swollen tears. All around her women were mourning and wailing for him.
“Daughters of Jerusalem,” he said, “do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then ‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!” For if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”
When they reached the crucifying place, the soldiers stripped Jesus down to his undergarment. They laid him on the cross, stretching his limbs along the beams. With mechanical precision they began pounding the stakes, driving through flesh and bone until each one felt solidly embedded in the wood on the other side.
“Stop! Stop!” Mary screamed, falling to her knees. “My son! Yahweh please! Save Him! Please! Please!” Over and over she cried with each sledge of the hammer. But nothing changed. Yahweh did not come. The soldiers did not stop. They only continued in their crucifying – nailing her son to a tree, then nailing a sign above his head:
JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS
Almost instantly, the jeering began. “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the ‘Christ of God, the Chosen One,’” laughed the hecklers.
Mary finally rose to her feet with the help of Mary Magdalene and John, who were still with her, and stood planted underneath the shadow of her dying son, like a fourth cross on The Place of the Skull.
Somehow, despite the taunting of the crowds, words from her past, over thirty years ago, came flooding into Mary’s mind. His name was Simeon, she remembered. He was old and frail, but full of joy at seeing her infant son swaddled against her breast. He had taken Jesus in his arms and praised God, saying:
Then he had looked at her and said, “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.”
He handed her back her baby. Tiny fingers, tiny toes, wrapped in swaddling blankets and laid in a manger. What a start into the world! And the visitors…. A parade of Mary’s past came dancing through her memories, visits of people wholly unexpected and all utterly in love with her son. Shepherds from the hills with their lambs, and Magi of the East with their gifts of gold, incense and myrrh. Jesus had been old enough to find them amusing. He giggled and mimicked them as they bowed low before him, then suddenly was shy, burying his head into Mary’s neck, rubbing his face against her skin. Sweet Yeshua, she had gently chided him, lifting his face with her slender fingers, filling his view of the world with her smiling, Do not be so shy. I am here, I will not leave you.
His face. It was so swollen and wrenched from pain. Maybe if she stood where he could best see her, he could focus on her face and find comfort again. “Yeshua,” she called to him, “I am here. I will not leave you.”
Beyond her, the soldiers grew restless. They began casting lots for Jesus’ clothes. The outer piece, woven without a seam, seemed their favorite.
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” Jesus prayed.
Mary, still planted in place, looked at them vacantly. Yahweh, forgive me, she prayed within herself, for I know not how I can ever forgive you.
From the sixth hour on, darkness came over all the land. Jesus kept shifting his weight to keep from suffocating while simultaneously shooting pain through his body nearly ripping his feet from the stakes. Mary saw he was wearying from the effort.
“Yeshua, my son, I am here,” she kept saying with no hope that he was able to hear her. But he looked up at her, steadied his head and said, “Dear woman, here is your son.” Then to John, he said, “Here is your mother.”
With that, he looked at her no more. He faded into a delirium of pain. No amount of her coaxing him could bring him back. Eventually, Mary sat on the ground and faded with him.
About the ninth hour, he suddenly cried out in a loud voice,
“Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”
“He’s calling Elijah!” said some of those still standing there. Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a stick and offered it to Jesus to drink. The rest said, “Let’s leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.”
Among them, on the ground, Mary still sat. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” she mumbled rocking back and forth, back and forth.
Suddenly the darkened sky turned black. Jesus cried out,
“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit! It is finished.”
With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. The earth began shaking violently. People screamed and fled in panic, the soldiers looked on in frozen terror. Mary laid herself down on the ground, her face against the rough dirt, feeling nothing against her cheek. She prayed the mountains would fall on her, the hills cover her up, so she could walk into death with her son.
I wrote today’s story through the eyes of a mother. I share with Mary both humanness and motherhood; two positions able to produce – among many things – unwavering devotion, unspeakable anger, and unthinkable grief. Praise God, His love for us overcomes it all. Until Sunday…