18th Apr, 2003

Good Friday

Preached by The Rev. Mark D. Stuart

When Jesus saw His mother and the disciple whom He loved standing near, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold your son!” Then He said to the disciple,” Behold your mother!”

It seems so very long ago now when, after her fine son was born, she and Joseph, according to custom; took Him to the temple in Jerusalem to consecrate Him to God. There the old man Simeon and the old woman Anna recognized the child’s extraordinary mission. Taking Him into his arms, Simeon blessed them and said to His mother Mary: This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that will be rejected so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul, too. It’s hard to imagine what Mary must have felt when Simeon (whose name means “he who hears God”) said these words to her: And a sword will pierce your own soul, too. Did she truly understand what it meant? Did she truly understand what her son’s life would mean? Did she really think through what the consequences might be of being the One who would reveal to people their innermost thoughts? Or what would be the inevitable cost of speaking truth to power? (Especially when that truth is about the content of the hearts of the powerful.) She must have had some sense from old Simeon’s prophecy that her son would turn the world upside down; but did she know then that He would also turn her personal universe upside down, break all its rules, and shake out its entire contents by dying before she did?

Oh, how sad and sore distressed
Was that Mother highly blessed
Of the sole-begotten One!

Christ above in torment hangs:
She beneath beholds the pangs
Of her dying glorious Son.

It was three long years since Jesus came forth from His quiet home life in Nazareth to be baptized by John in the river Jordan. And that important public ministry on which Jesus embarked had not much involvement with His hometown from then on. After His temptation in the wilderness, He did return home and entered the local synagogue one Sabbath day. But the people took great offense at His mighty proclamation that the Scripture was fulfilled in Him: Is this not Mary and Joseph’s son, whom we have known since He was a boy? Where does He get all this? And, so, Jesus moved on; barely escaping with His life, marveling at their unbelief. Yes, Mary would go with Him initially; being present at her Son’s first miracle at Cana in Galilee, where He turned water into wine at the wedding feast. When the wine ran out, she came to Jesus to tell Him, and He replied: Oh woman what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come. And Mary responded, maybe as much to herself as to the servants Do whatever He tells you. Now she stands at the cross, perhaps recalling those words: My hour has not yet come and realizing that now it finally has come. But why like this?

Who on Christ’s dear Mother gazing
Pierced by anguish so amazing
Born of woman, would not weep?

Who on Christ’s dear Mother thinking
Such a cup of sorrow drinking
Would not share her sorrows deep?

It seems now like ages ago when that young woman felt the first joy of motherhood within her. That wonderful joy of motherhood, to be sure, but supreme motherhood! It was a great archangel of the Lord who came to her telling her that she blessed above all women, above all humanity, because she would bare the Son of the Most High! Her response: Be it unto me according to Thy word. Afterward she would break into spontaneous song: My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord! And my spirit rejoices in God my savior! Then came the marvelous birth accompanied by heavenly signs, and angels, and the simple as well as the great coming to pay homage…

As the boy grew He was good, but also very normal and the family settled into happy obscurity in provincial Galilee. Yet, the mother would still ponder in her heart those first wonderful events and over the years she would try to discern their meaning. If she had any inkling what was to come, like any of us she would have banished it from her mind. Now she looks upon her beloved Son, tortured and dying and He demands she look at Him: Woman behold thy Son! He forcefully exclaims! What greater agony could possess the human soul than having to publicly watch one’s child die in pain and disgrace! And a sword will pierce your own soul too… old Simeon’s prophecy was coming true in a ghastly way. Outrage at God would seem the normal response, especially when He had seemed to promise such great and glorious things at the outset… and then those words of hers uttered so long ago come back to her, Be it unto me according to Thy word.

Oh thou Mother, Font of love,
Touch my spirit from above,
Make my heart with Thine accord.

By the cross with Thee to stay:
There with Thee to weep and pray;
This I ask of Thee to give.

With her mind now awash with so many memories, another incident come back from the past which continues to amaze and confuse Mary. Once as Jesus was teaching, His disciples came to tell Him that His mother and brothers were there to see Him and His response was Who are my mother and my brothers? They who hear the Word of God and do it are my mother and my brothers. And then perhaps a profound insight enters Mary’s consciousness: all believers in Jesus in all ages, even 20 centuries later, are standing at the foot of the cross with her and John. That would certainly become more clear some 50 days hence when she and the disciples hiding in secret would hear the mighty wind and behold the tongues of fire initiating her Son’s new body, the Church. The horrible event she is now witnessing, is the movement beyond time of all Christians toward complete faith. Mary, standing there as the seemingly pitiful, forlorn mother is elevated to the supreme model for the Church. It is not just through her complete acceptance of God’s Will in her Magnificat; but through her faith at this hour which feels the sword of scandal and contradiction, required most boldly in the shadow of the cross; which indeed is the prototype for all Christian faith. It is faith in God… even in the face of utter desolation, pain, and confusion which we must uphold as our model in the person of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

It is on Good Friday that we as Christians deeply recognize that our faith is not simplistic, nor easy, nor without its share of difficulties and sorrows. In his book, God Was in Man, Donald Baillie wrote, Most of the greatest heresies arose from an undue desire for simplification, an undue impatience with mystery and paradox. It is in the cross that we behold the great mystery and paradox of our faith. And a sword will pierce will pierce your own soul too. And it does… daily.

We live in a world of tragedy. A world in which our worst nightmares seem to be tragically unavoidable. A world in which the thing we wouldn’t wish upon our worst and hated enemy happens to our best and dearest friend. Or even to us. We live in world blinded by so much hurt and hate that we fail to see each other as human beings, let alone brothers and sisters, fellow creatures of God. We live in a world in which people who profess to believe in God kill thousands of people in the name of God, and rejoice and brag. A world which in the two thousand years since the birth of the Prince of Peace has known less than 200 years of peace. We live in a world in which a few people are worth billions while 2 billion people on our planet live on less than $2.00 a day and 1 billion on less than $1.00. A world in which half the population throws away leftover food each night, while the other half goes to bed hungry. A world in which a third of the people struggle with obesity while another third suffer from malnutrition. A world which, in the words of the Psalmist: the unrighteous live to see the fruits of their labors, while the lives of the innocent are cut short. Worst of all, we live in a world where, despite our best efforts, these things seem unavoidable and even inevitable…a world that offers us the lesser of two evils as our daily choice… a world that breaks our hearts…All the world’s pain now hangs on the cross, is embraced by Christ’s blessed Mother, piercing her soul like a sword…

Jesus may Mary’s deep devotion,
Stir in me the same emotion
Fount of love, Redeemer kind.

That my heart fresh ardor gaining,
And a purer love attaining,
May in Thee acceptance find.

At the foot of the cross with all the profound thoughts of her Son’s life flashing through her mind, Mary would perceive the meaning of His death for all mankind and would then truly fulfill the words she spoke at the moment when she first entered into that mystery at the Annunciation: From henceforth all generations will call me blessed. Then she would at last gaze upon her Son on the cross after three agonizing hours and hear His final words and her heart would burn with the blessed realization of Christ’s glory:
IT IS ACCOMPLISHED!

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