Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, "Woman, here is your son," and to the disciple, "Here is your mother." From that time on, this disciple took her into his home (John 20:25-27 NIV).
Jesus' sweetness to his mother in the horror of this moment holds us here just like Mary's love for her boy held her here so many years ago. Through the eyes of Mary and Jesus' beloved disciple, we see it all. The ascent up Golgotha, being nailed to the cross, and then lifted up between two criminals to die that agonizing and humiliating death of crucifixion. The sign placed above him, "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews." Gambling over Jesus' clothes as he is exposed and naked, left to writhe in pain and face the jeers of barbaric and dehumanizing ridicule while on display. "I am thirsty," Jesus says, asking for a drink. The soldiers give him a sponge of wine vinegar. Then Jesus says, "It is finished." He bows his head, gives up his spirit, and dies.
Somehow our gaze is transfixed, darting between Mary and the soldier who has come to make sure that Jesus is dead. As the soldier plunges the spear into the Lord's side, a mixture of blood and water pours out as his body is pierced. And just as his mother knows, we too realize that he is gone. Jesus' body is dead!
We will never fully know what this meant in the life of God. We can try to imagine, but even our imaginations cannot fathom the hard impact Jesus' death had on the heart of God! We can know that Jesus did it to honor the Father's will and to demonstrate his great love for us, but we cannot begin to calculate the cost to God. We have no currency by which to understand such sacrifice.
Then our glance falls on Mary — Mary the mother of Jesus who had raised him, now followed him to the cross. Her body is worn and weary. Her face streaked with tears. Her face displays the agony of her soul. This was her boy ... her baby ... the one that she had swaddled ... the one that she carried in her womb ... the one about whom angels made such great promises.
Yet why were the angels silent now? Why silent in her confusion? Why silent in her anger? Why silent in her own suffering?
Then suddenly we realize the importance of Mary at this moment. In addition to demonstrating her loving faithfulness to her boy, Mary becomes our window into the heart of God. Through her pain, we can catch a glimpse of God's pain. Through her faithfulness, we are reminded of Jesus' confidence:
"A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me" (John 16:32).
And so we stand at this cross, this scene of horror, with Mary and the beloved disciple and realize, as much as Mary agonizes over the pain and humiliation of her son, God agonizes more and accepts upon himself the weight of the world's sin, hell's evil intent, and humankind's cruelty. And as he does, we are reminded once again of our Father's love and the basis of our hope:
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 4:9-10).
And the cost of this great love? And the pain of this great sacrifice? And the weight of the sin he bears, the evil he defeats, and the cruelty he endures? It is etched in the lines of Mary's face, the tremble in her hands that once held him, and the tracks of the tears as they roll down her cheeks and drop silently on the same dirt on which her little boy's blood is spilled.
Mary is our window to the heart of God. So we pause ... and wonder ... and give thanks ... and remember the words of the distant hymn that echoes in our soul:
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.*
* By Isaac Watts, from the song "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross," 1707.
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