How quickly things have changed among Jesus’ followers. His disciples – even the chosen Twelve – have pretty much deserted him. They’ve either fled in fear, or else they have betrayed him, or denied that they knew him. But some women who were among his devoted followers have braved the implications for them and have arrived with him at the foot of the cross. The Beloved Disciple – probably John – has come too. And, of course, his mother.
Think for a moment how much grief has to be in the heart of Mary. Joseph seems to be out of the picture now; we assume he has died. Jesus is all she has left in the world, her promised one. She certainly knows that his hour is at hand, we know that she continues to trust in God, but the pain of these moments has to be almost too much to bear. And so Jesus speaks to her from the cross: “Woman, behold your son.” And to John, “Behold your mother.” Jesus knows that for those who were closest to him in life, they will have need of support, of community, after his death. Grief cannot be borne alone. But not only that, community is essential to the continuation of Jesus’ mission. So that relationship, forged at the foot of the cross, became the basis for discipleship for both Mary and John that would be instrumental in leading the fledgling Church into the ages ahead.
Still greater, though, is that we see in Mary an icon of the Church. We grieve too, but we for our sins. As we look up at the cross, we see – with horrifying clarity – the effect of our sins. We know why Jesus had to come to this hour. As Isaiah says, “he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins.” No one sentenced Jesus to die on that cross as much as we did, and do, in our daily sins of commission and omission, in our harsh words, in our unkind and impure thoughts, in our lack of loving and in the neglect of our mission. And yet, as John clearly points out in his Gospel, he went to the cross willingly, taking all that brokenness with him.
Like Mary, we the Church wait at the foot of the cross, not abandoning our Jesus who did not abandon us to our sins. We, like Mary, receive at the cross our relationships, purified for our salvation, strengthened for the mission: beholding our mothers and sons and daughters and fathers, because we never get to the resurrection alone. We’re not supposed to go it alone in this life. Even in his most painful and dying moments, our Jesus gives us gifts that help us to arrive at the fullness of salvation.