Last words

This is a meditation delivered at a service of the Seven Last Words at Trinity Cathedral, Cleveland, Good Friday 2009, revisited today in honour of Holy Week and in memory of Joyce.

 – Woman, behold your son: behold your mother –

 I wonder if at first this sounded like something of a mixed blessing.

Woman, see your son. Son, see your mother.

I wonder: How did it feel to Mary, as she stood weeping, watching him die, wishing she could reach him one last time, and hearing her beloved son tell her, Woman, see your son; handing her over, without so much as a by-your-leave: Son, see your mother.

I wonder what she was remembering. The strange events that surrounded his birth? Or did she remember that wedding, when she talked Jesus into saving the day when the wine ran out? When she could still persuade him. Or was she thinking of  another day when she took Jesus’ brothers to see him, and his reply was, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” When he told her he had left the family home and he was not coming back.

Mary didn’t need another son. Jesus’ brothers could take care of her. And even they wouldn’t replace her firstborn.

And yet, here he was, this young man, standing beside her, his grief matched to her own. And he had spent these past few years with her son, closer to him than she had managed since his youth. Perhaps, he could teach her to find those lost years; perhaps he could help her to reclaim something of what she was losing on the cross before her. Perhaps, like that angel long ago, who first gave her the news of her son when she was just a young girl; perhaps this young man could bring her a word of hope regarding her beloved Jesus.

I wonder.

And what about John? It’s one thing to become someone’s mother. Basically, all you have to do is love them. Love them more than life itself, mind you, and risk the pain of losing them, but really, all you have to do to be a mother is to love.

But for a grown man to take on a grown woman as his mother: what does that even mean? To love her back, surely, but there must be more to it than that. How much responsibility is he to take for her? To house her, clothe her, feed her, take care of her welfare when she is no longer able to take care of her own? Give up his freedom and his bachelor ways without even the benefit of a wife? I wonder how John felt about it all.

And yet, here she was, leaning upon him, crying into his robe, mingling her tears with his own, the mother of his best friend, his remarkable master, the one they had come to believe truly was the Son of God.

And what did that make her, this woman Mary. The mother of the Son of God?

And perhaps she would tell him stories of Jesus’ childhood. Perhaps she could even teach him something about Jesus he didn’t know, help him to reclaim something of what he was losing.

I wonder.

I want to tell you about something that happened to me, here, a few years ago. My own mother was dying, away across the ocean. It was hard to bear, and one Sunday morning, sitting alone at the back of the cathedral, I couldn’t help but cry. It was nine o-clock, and any of you who has been to a nine o’clock service here knows that when it comes time, the whole congregation, the whole church family gathers around the table to celebrate the Eucharist together.

Well, this particular morning, I couldn’t help but cry, and I didn’t want to stand up and gather in a circle and show my tears to the world. I stayed where I was, hidden at the back of the church, and I put my face in my hands.

But then I felt a hand on my shoulder, and a woman sat down beside me. She was a complete stranger to me, but she took my hand and said,

“You need to come with me now to the table. Because, I’m not going without you. I’m not leaving you here alone. You’re my sister.”

And she led me to the foot of the cross, and hand in hand we heard the story of Jesus’ last supper, and as one body, we shared in the one bread, and she brought me back to Jesus, and she shared Jesus with me. This stranger, my sister.

She didn’t care if I didn’t look like her, or dress like her, or even sound much like her. She didn’t ask for anything in return for adopting me as her own. But as though she had heard a word from the Lord himself, she told me, “I’m not leaving you here alone. You’re my sister.”

And in that moment, although my mother was still dying, and still so far away, I wonder if the comfort that I felt, if the warmth that ran through me was anything like the blessing that John and Mary received together from Jesus in that moment of loss, of grief and despair, on that far away, long ago hillside afternoon.

I wonder.

About Rosalind C Hughes

Rosalind C Hughes is a priest and author living near the shores of Lake Erie. After growing up in England and Wales, and living briefly in Singapore, she is now settled in Ohio. She serves an Episcopal church just outside Cleveland. Rosalind is the author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing , and Whom Shall I Fear? Urgent Questions for Christians in an Age of Violence, both from Upper Room Books. She loves the lake, misses the ocean, and is finally coming to terms with snow.
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