Can you imagine being Mary, the mother of Jesus, that day?
Mary stood there with her sister, with Mary the wife of Clopas, with Mary Magdalene and with the beloved disciple on that dusty, horrid hill, Golgotha, the Place of the Skull. The most sordid of deaths, Roman crucifixions, took place there. Criminals hung on crosses and gasped out the last hours of their lives, and finally, agonizingly, suffocated and died.
Now, Mary is watching her own son hang on the cross. This is the man that she had carried in her body for nine months, and given birth to, loved and cared for as a child. She loved him as he grew up into the man in whom she had complete confidence. She is watching him die an ignominious death on a Roman cross.
What must she have been feeling?
Jesus, who in John’s gospel is in complete control of this situation, sees his beloved people there with him, standing nearby, keeping vigil, refusing to leave, suffering with him, and he speaks to his mother and to the disciple that he loves.
“Woman,” he says, “Behold your son.” And then Jesus says to the beloved disciple, “Behold your mother.” And from that hour, scripture tells us, the disciple took her into his own home.
This small gathering continues to stand at the cross, watching.
Jesus, seeing that all is finished, says, “It is finished.” Then he bows his head and gives up his spirit. His friends stay, watching over his limp, dead body, as Pilate’s soldiers come, and break the legs of the others being crucified.
But seeing that Jesus is already dead, the soldiers don’t break his legs. Instead, one of the solders pierces his side with a spear, and at once water and blood pour out.
What did Mary recall when she saw that water and blood flow out? Maybe she was too stricken with grief and sickened by all of the violence to think beyond the moment.
But Mary, who pondered all things in her heart, may have thought back to a happier day, a day when her own water broke, and her own body bled as it tore apart and she gave birth to her first born Son.
She may have remembered a day of celebration, a day of dancing and feasting, that wedding at Cana, when Jesus had turned water into wine and in so doing had made the joy of the bridegroom and the bride and the guests complete as they became a new family.
When Jesus took off his outer robe and tied a towel around himself, took cleansing water and washed the feet of the disciples over Peter’s objection, he might have been remembering how Mary and Joseph had cared for him when he was a child. And so he gives the disciples the new commandment, as old as God’s everlasting love for us, that they are to love one another as he has loved them. “By this,” Jesus said, “everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Mary, his mother, who has been with Jesus since the beginning, is with him to the end.
And once more she is carrying new life—she is carrying within her the birth of the new community of love as she goes with the beloved disciple to share his home, where they will serve one another and care for one another in remembrance of Jesus.
In this home, they will be bound together in their love for Jesus, and because of his love, they will love one another in their new community of love as he had loved them both in this life.
Tonight, we too stand with Mary and the beloved disciple and the other Marys near the cross.
We watch along with them as our beloved Lord is crucified.
Jesus sees us standing here. And Jesus says to us, “Behold one another.”
“See the ones standing here with you, standing here together out of love for me.”
“Behold one another. I ask you to make a new home with one another.”
Like Jesus called Mary and his beloved disciple to bring to birth a new community of love, Jesus is asking us to give birth to something new as well.
Each of us is bringing to life, and will continue to bring to life, this new community of love. We are bound together in the cleansing waters of baptism, the womb water into which we are born into new life as God’s children. In the waters of baptism, we have let Jesus wash us clean in his love for each one of us. And so we ought to love one another.
We share in the body and the blood of Jesus at his great wedding feast when we gather around the altar each Sunday and share the bread, his body, broken for us, and the wine, his blood shed for us.
And we rejoice over and over at this great wedding feast and give thanks.
We stand with one another in our suffering. We are the witnesses to one another’s inevitable suffering, and we are companions to one another as we die.
We go with one another on the last parts of our journeys, and we honor one another at death, and even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.
So as we stand together at the foot of his cross, remember.
Remember his birth, remember the wedding, remember that he has washed us and made us clean, remember that his body has been broken for us, remember that his blood has been spilled for us.
And remember that Jesus says to us, from the cross—”Behold one another. Truly see one another. Take one another in. Love one another.”
“Together, give birth to my new community of love.”
Resource: Moloney, Francis J. The Gospel of John. Sacra Pagina, Daniel J. Harrington, S.J. Editor. Collegeville, MN. 1988.
(The idea of the new community of love comes from Moloney’s commentary.)