Holy Week 2011


I suppose there must be a mother somewhere who rears and loves a child without pain; but I don't know one. I don't mean the kind of pain that comes and goes, like labour pain, but the chronic, nagging pain, the pain that reminds you that you love the child so much you can hardly bear it.

That's how I felt from the beginning, from the moment I knew that I was carrying a special child. Naturally there was a fuss when the word got out but I almost didn't care; the love pain had already set in and it has never left me since. I'm not complaining. It's the best kind of sensation you can ever have; it shows you how alive you are; but there are limits; and I'm reaching mine now.

I should have known from the start. The conception was unusual enough but it seemed natural at the time. When God asks, you say "yes".

Then there was the trip to see Elizabeth which was strange because she was also experiencing the strange ways of the Lord. As soon as I got through the door she was praising me to the highest heavens and I responded with my own sublime joy; but she deferred to me all the time which was extremely embarrassing; at least I was useful and it kept me out of harm's way while Joseph was calming everyone down in Nazareth. It was strange, too, how John turned out in the end, given that Elizabeth and Zechariah were so old fashioned; at least my Jeshua had better manners than her John who was, I am sorry to say, noisy and scruffy.

When I got back from Elizabeth's, Joseph had calmed most people down but the joy of the remaining months of pregnancy were marred by family and supposed friends who couldn't resist a dig; but I was the only person who knew what had really happened to me, except for Joseph who couldn't feel it but who had had an extremely vivid dream about Jeshua.

It was almost time for me to give birth when we had to go on a stupid trip to Bethlehem to fulfil some kind of legal requirement; but in some ways it was better to give birth in a noisy inn, attended by strange women, rather than in the family home where they didn't know whether to be pleased or angry. By contrast, Jeshua had hardly been born when we were visited by a noisy gang of shepherds saying that angels had told them to come and worship Jeshua. It all sounded pretty improbable but by then I could believe anything. And then, after we had settled down nicely, we had a visit from what you might call a delegation of soothsayers who talked about planetary motions which aren't the kinds of things that good Jews are supposed to take any notice of. But they were very generous!

The incident that really settled everything was at his Presentation. The lovely old man said Jeshua was going to be a saviour but he also warned me that I would have a tough life, as if he knew something, although I did not need to be told. But it was Anna who left her mark when she said: "Whatever happens, never lose faith; it will all come right in the end. This isn't a silly old woman's optimism, it's the power of the Spirit that moved in you and is moving in me." I wonder what she would say now; and I can't quite set aside her promise, even now.

Jeshua was, on the whole, a good boy. I don't mean just in the usual way of toilet training and table manners, but in his infinite capacity for kindness and consideration; and then there were his practical jokes and his wonderful sense of humour. He wasn't perfect - not even a Messiah could be that - and sometimes he was impatient and he would speak out of turn when he wanted to right a wrong when he was too young to know how complicated the world is; but I suppose all young people suffer from that. At least he acted from the best of motives but he did get us into trouble with all the important people in Nazareth and so they never let us forget the 'unusual' circumstances of his birth.

I thought he would leave home earlier than he did but he kept saying that his time had not yet come and we were grateful for what he brought in with so many mouths to feed; and he showed no real signs of getting married. And then, one day just after his 30th birthday, shortly after the Winter rains had finished, he said he was going to live in Capernaum and do his father's work, by which he meant our heavenly Lord. It took some time getting used to but who was I to quibble when Joseph took it so calmly.

It was all rather sudden but he soon came back, asking for help with domestic arrangements; and before long I found myself going backwards and forwards between Nazareth and Capernaum on a fairly regular basis. He could depend on Simon's family for most of what he needed, paid for in the usual way by people who welcomed his teaching, but he was so used to me being around that he couldn't really do without me; so I spent as much time with him as I could as he walked the length and breadth of the land preaching God's Kingdom, healing people and performing amazing acts. I was overawed; I knew it was God's power within him; but I couldn't help it, I was so proud of him!

You might have thought that I became the chief organiser of the itinerant routine but I kept well out of the way. Simon managed all the heavy work and had a close working relationship with Zebedee's sons and mother. They were rather intemperate, but well meaning, and She was - how shall I put it? - a bit above herself but she meant well and worked hard. My job was to keep out of the daily round of tasks and squabbles so that I could be really useful when serious disagreements broke out, which they frequently did, over everything from the best route to take to the meaning of the Law and the nature of the Kingdom. Even for me, with my unusual background, it was difficult to become used to the fact that Jeshua's point of view was radically unorthodox, that he thought that much of the Law was redundant and that, like the prophets, he thought that living a holy life was more important than living a Law observing life. That was what got him into such trouble. it didn't matter how much good he did, his opponents wouldn't stop nagging him about the Law.

The thing that marked him out most was his absolute tolerance of disagreement. He didn't mind who said what; he never took it personally; he went on smiling - and even laughing in his nice way - and everybody was always friends at the end of it. He would be having a serious dispute with a Pharisee one minute and pouring him a drink the next. And he had such a huge stock of stories and jokes that he could always find the right thing to say in an awkward situation, although he also said a lot of things that we didn't fully understand.

And what struck me most - as a mother, it would - was how happy he made people. Wherever he appeared there were big crowds and lively teaching sessions and, what the people really wanted, healings. I tried to keep some kind of score but I lost count, particularly as he did a lot of his healing quietly, when nobody was looking. It's typical of him that he started his mission, as he called it, overcoming the wine shortage at a wedding and ended his mission at a fellowship meal. In between there were all kinds of strange meals but he never noticed that anything was strange. 

It was hard work but I loved the Galilee days. Then he said his fate lay in Jerusalem. I agreed with Peter that it was a bad idea to go to Jerusalem but, as usual, as was his right, he pleased himself. I had never liked it, but I came to hate the place after we lost him there, and I had found all sorts of good reasons to avoid the regular pilgrimages; but that was where he was going and I knew I would have to go with him.

As usual, I stayed well out of the way as he made his grand entry into Jerusalem and as the reports of events grew darker and darker. He was exhausted every evening when he came in; and although our hosts were always hospitable, after the Lazarus event things were always a bit highly charged and I had to cool things down and make sure that he had some home cooking as well as the posh Judean dishes.

Even I was surprised when he washed the feet of his followers before the Passover meal; but he was in a very strange, sombre mood that night and excited at the same time, as if he knew what was coming and he wanted to get on with it. As we cleared away he got involved in an immensely long discussion with his followers but at last they went out for a night prayer on the mountain - he loved praying at the tops of hills and mountains - and that is when everything went wrong.

I don't know all the ins and outs of what happened at the High Priest's house, or the Governor's, or Herod's town house - and they haven't really told me because they don't seem to know much themselves, except for John - but you would assume that Jeshua made some huge miscalculation but, then, he had been making some morbid statements on the way up to Jerusalem, so this looked like a self-fulfilling prophesy. I knew nothing until the final verdict and then I gathered the stragglers, the men who had run away, and we women shamed them into pulling themselves together so that we could see what happened and whether there was anything we could do. After all, powerful people can be capricious and they might have become suddenly lenient with the festival.

But, no. That is why I say that the pain has almost reached my limit. I know that he is suffering  more pain than I am - and if he's like he usually is he will be suffering mine as well as his own - but I am suffering his as well as mine. I don't suppose I would mind so much if he had been rough and outspoken like dear John who had a horrible death (though at least it was quick and private) but Jeshua's way of being outspoken was usually so gentle and even humorous: that mouth that laughed and smiled, so stretched now, in pain; that beautiful calm brow, so wise and serene, raked by thorns; that lovely hair he was so proud of, matted with blood. And the eyes so bright and lively, never still, always looking round to see what was happening, to see that everyone was all right. But the worst thing is the hands, oh the hands! The hands that touched so gently, the hands that healed, the hands that blessed, the hands through which all his love flowed, now broken.

There must be some limit to how much pain we can both take; but you never know your limit until you are challenged. If people told you as a teenager what you could put up with you would never believe them; and as he is being brave for me I must be brave for him.

Yes John, we must go over to him; I can manage that now you are back.

Yes, my son, I know he will look after me. Yes. I will look after him too. Have you any other messages for us?

Oh God!

Haven't they done enough to disfigure him? Why would they want to break his precious bones? Please, although he is dead, treat him gently; he can do no harm now!

Just a drop of blood and a little water; and the end.

But I am still his mother; and he is still my son; and although the worst fate ever to befall a mother is to survive the death of her children; I must perform in the office of a mother.

O Anna! Anna! I still believe what you said. But it is so hard!