The Agony of Love: A Narrative of Mary the Mother of Jesus
This is the second of three reflections for Holy Week
A reflection for Holy Week by Lucinda McArthur
Old Simeon told me. Right there, on the steps of the temple, he told me on that day all those years ago, “A sword will pierce your heart, too”. I remember blinking and looking into his eyes and seeing a fleeting sadness there. Many times over the years the words would come back to the forefront of my thoughts, causing me to ponder again what they could possibly mean; however, they were never really far away, lodged in my heart like a stone. As this Passover grew near, I felt the stone grow larger and heavier. I silently went over the words in my head, imploring my Son to leave town for a while. Leave Jerusalem and find somewhere safe to stay
until the authorities’ anger abates. I knew it was useless, though. He had that look in His eye
that I knew all too well...
I’ve been trembling since John woke us to tell us that Jesus had been taken away from the
garden. I awoke with a start, my heart hammering in my chest. This is what I’ve been dreading.
Oh, Father be with Him. Be with Him. Be with Him. I sat on my mat, rocking back and forth,
unable to rise and paralyzed with fear, until Mary rushed in. In the light of the lantern, she looked into my eyes, “Mother, come, we need to go now. He needs us.” She wrapped her arms around me. I wanted her to hold me for longer, but she firmly grasped my face in her hands and wordlessly kissed my forehead, then pulled me to my feet. As we made our way through the dark city streets, fear wrapped its hand around my throat and I struggled to breathe. With John leading the way, we made our way to the Praetorium. We hid in the shadows, as there were Romans everywhere. The waiting was interminable. At some point, we met Peter in the street. We tried to speak to him, but he was inconsolable. He kept repeating that he was sorry and continued to hurry past us. I didn’t understand. I was certain he would stay with Jesus.
Just before dawn, a great cheer erupted. It all happened so quickly from there. The umiliating charade of the soldiers gleefully stripping Him naked for all to see. Clothing him with a purple
robe and a crown of thorns. And then the scourging of my Son. In an exercise of brutality so
inhumane, horrific for even a bystander to endure, they stripped the flesh from my Son’s back
with their leather whips. Mary held me in her arms as we heard Jesus’ tortured cries from
outside the palace. It seemed to go on for what seemed an eternity and then, finally, blessed
quiet. I felt my body begin to release all of the tension that had built up within it over the past few days. It is finished, I thought, eager to go to Him, comfort Him, take Him home and dress His wounds. As we prepared to go to the gate, John intercepted us, his hands thrust out in front of him, towards us. A warning. “No, no, you mustn’t.”. “I want to see Him. We must take Him home.” Oh, the look, even now, all these years later, rends my heart. “No.” Perplexed, I reply, “I don’t understand.” Faltering, John explains. Tears coursing down his face, he onfirms what the rock in my heart has been foretelling since the Birth of my dear Child.
As his voice becomes far away and difficult to understand, it is replaced by a roaring in my ears, gradually growing louder and louder until I am unable to hear anything he is saying at all. I see his lips moving, but I cannot make out the awful words. The world about me seems to spin and I feel myself stumbling. John’s strong arms catch me as I fall and Mary wraps her arms around me once more. I open my mouth, but no words emerge. Suddenly, in my mind’s eye, I see Simeon standing in front of me. I hear his words again. I feel a pain in my chest and gasp. Unable to breathe, I clutch Mary’s hand. The sword is going all the way through me, to my back. It’s so sharp, so precise. I feel an immense pressure and a wave of nausea rolls over me. My jaw throbs, my teeth feel as though they are being pulled, one by one. John gently lowers me to the ground, covering me with his cloak. They stay there, tending to me as the crowds thicken and become rowdier and more vocal.
Oh, Dear God. They are shouting to the authorities to crucify my Son. Your Son. Your precious
Son. Just then, the gates of the Praetorium burst open and a macabre procession snakes its
way by: The Romans in formation, leading the One that was my Son, the small boy that I watched grow up, the playful child that left rocks on my kitchen table, through the city streets.
John and Mary help me to my feet and my heart seizes again, taking my breath, but I motion to follow Him. I will not leave my Son. We process, one painful, agonizing step at a time, through the main streets of the city, the crowds chanting becoming louder and louder. I try not to cast my gaze on my Son.
I close my eyes and picture Him as a child, running in the fields, playing with His cousin John. I picture Him as a healthy, whole man, changing the water into wine in Cana. I see His beautiful smile, His kind eyes. Not the terrible wounds and bloody shreds of the muscles of His back. Not the foul crossbeam of the cross He carries on His back. We walk on. And on. And then, my Beloved, straining under the weight of the terrible cross, falls.
The Romans compel a man from the crowd to carry the cross for Him. Bile rises in my throat as I realize they simply want to prolong His life until they are able to carry out the crucifixion. The poor man looks terrified. Perhaps he feels that he is to be crucified instead. For just an instant, the man pauses as he bends down to pick the beam from off of my Son and I see Jesus look up at him and my heart swells. I know that face. Ah, my Son, You’re still about Your Father’s work. Tears fill my eyes.What is happening? This was not supposed to happen. What is to become of the Way? Questions swirl in my mind as I look frantically around. The crowd, John and Marythere, both heart-broken; the disciples, so faithful all during His ministry, have fled. All of them. Where are You, Father? Surely You will not forsake Your Son, in this, His greatest hour of need? Will You?
As John and Mary support me, we hurry through the street. The man carrying the cross follows behind Jesus as he limps slowly along to the jeers and taunts of the crowd. Oh, God, how He has made it this far, I don’t know. Please save Him. The man seems to be praying, his lips moving. Or maybe he is simply offering words of encouragement to my Son. Every now and then Jesus looks back over His shoulder and makes eye contact with the man and the man nods, as if they are having a silent conversation. The crown of thorns is heavy upon His head, pressed into His flesh, blood running in rivulets down the infant face that often looked up at me from my breast as I nursed Him, His smile dancing in His little eyes, His tiny fingers wrapped around my hair. I close my eyes to bring those memories to the present to obliterate the horrors that fill my vision now. I trip on a stone in the road and John catches me. I see Mary look at John and grimace. They care for me and I them. I’ve grown to think of them as my children.
We reach the hill after an eternity. My Son refuses the sour wine mixed with myrrh. My chest
feels so tight that I can only take the smallest of breaths. I begin to tremble violently. My hair is
plastered to my head and my clothing is wringing wet. I’m cold. So cold... Please Father, hurry,
before it's too late. Send Gabriel and his army. Please, send ANYONE. I beg of You.... The
sound of the hammering of the nails and my Son’s weak cries echo over the hills. I will never be able to forget the rhythmic metallic clanking interspersed with His guttural noises. Why, Father? Why? I bury my head in Mary’s shoulder and John wraps his arms around us both. For hours, we stand in the brutal sun, waiting for my Beloved to die. Our hope dwindles and by midday, all is gone. Suddenly, the cruel sun is blotted out by dark clouds and a stiff wind begins to blow. Slowly, the crowd disperses until very few of those so intent on seeing Him crucified are still there. I ask John to take me closer. He gently guides me to the foot of the cross. I kneel before my Son and pray for Him.
Weeping, I look up at Him. He is looking down at me with a tenderness and love that belies the agony with which he is suffering. His mouth, parched and bleeding slowly forms the words, “I Love...” His gaze pauses for a moment before it shifts to John, “Now... your son.” and back to me, “...your... mother.” I feel John’s arm tighten around my shoulders and I nod slowly to my Son. You are leaving me. My beautiful Son. My heart is... breaking. I place my hand over my chest to dull the pain and fix my eyes on His, walking Him these last few steps. We began this journey together and we will end it together.
A few minutes or a few hours later, I will never know which, my Son raised His eyes to the
heavens and with the plaintive wail of a lost child, cried out, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” It
was then that all of the pain, all of the agony of the day pressed down upon me and my heart
came unloosed. I heard the tearing apart of His Spirit in his voice, in His words. Oh, dear God. I did not realize that the words in my heart were coming out of my mouth in great hoarse gasps over and over again until John and Mary, with fierce tenderness and tear-stained faces, came to me, gently, “Come, Mother, it’s time.” Just then, the sun completely disappeared, it became as dark as night, and there came a voice from the cross. Battered but resolute, my Son spoke His last words.
After taking His body to the tomb in the garden that had been provided, we made our way back to my dwelling and sat in the darkness. There was commotion in the streets. The temple curtain had been torn in two from top to bottom. Peals of thunder and great flashes of lightning streaked across the sky. The wind continued to blow restlessly. There was an atmosphere of unease, a feeling of a city perching on the edge of a precipice. Mary and I wordlessly sat together late into the evening, shattered, exhausted, and bewildered, my head on her shoulder, our hands entwined.
It is finished.