The scene at the cross is heart-wrenching. His chosen Twelve have deserted him, all but one. 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.
His mother’s grief has to be palpable. Joseph is out of the picture now; we assume he has died. Jesus is all she has left in the world, her promised one. She continues to trust in God but the pain of these moments is 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 after his death. Grief cannot be borne alone. 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.
But even more than 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. 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, beholding our mothers and sons and daughters and fathers, because we never get to the resurrection alone.