Silent Women

Friday 25th March 2005
Good Friday
Holy Trinity, Hurstpierpoint

Based on Meditation By The Cross.

When Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane all the disciples had fled and, later, Peter had denied him. Only the young John had crept back to the foot of the Cross to be commended to Mary and she to Him.

So apart from John His only close friends were women; women who had followed Him from Galilee, who had uprooted themselves from their homes to live a ramshackle life on the road. This itinerant and mendicant life was easier for the men who camped where they stopped; but for women who were subject to much stricter social rules in every aspect of their lives, travelling presented real problems.

The women ministered to Jesus and His Disciples and, with the exception of Martha and Mary, they said nothing. Now they are silent, stoical figures, standing quietly amid the abuse, the spitting, the wanton, routine cruelty; standing amidst the stench of the rubbish dump that is Golgotha; standing in silent witness.

The men had been the inner circle for Jesus; they had organised the crowds, fanned out across the country to preach, heard the explanation of the parables, and shared the Last Supper; and now, when Jesus really needed them, they were not here; and the women who had been patient and silent, who had asked for nothing, who had said nothing, had stayed to the end.

That brave and humble girl who agreed to become the mother of Jesus was their unity, their strength, their magnet and their catalyst. After the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple Mary tried to fulfill the impossible mission of being the mother of God. When Jesus stayed behind in the temple at the age of twelve she had to curb her terrible fear; when He said at Cana that His time had not yet come (though His mother knew better), she had to bite her lip; and when she asked to see Him after He had finished preaching, she could hardly control herself, gripped by a mixture of fear and joy.

And always in the background was Simeon's ominous warning that a sword would pierce her heart as the result of her faithfulness to her Son Jesus and that strange look she got from Hannah; and here is this sword now, piercing her heart, even before the soldier pierces the side of the dead Jesus, emptying the last drops of blood and water.

Mary has followed Jesus every step of the way and many mothers must know how she feels with sons who are so mysterious: sons who talk in incomprehensible computer jargon; sons who are obsessed with games consols; sons who know every facet of the football off-side rule; sons who travel round the world with hardly a spare shirt. Mary has such a Son who was old before His time; who spoke in parables; who cured the sick and even raised the dead to life. How do you talk to a son like that?

And, then, sons can be so gruff. Mary remembers Jesus in the temple, aged Twelve, telling her off for being worried; did she not know He had to be on His Father's business; and she remembers trying to escape unseen from the wedding party at Cana to have a quiet word with the servants without being noticed; and she remembers how often when she called Him out of the Synagogue to give Him a message that He was rather short with her. And although she knows He loves her more than anyone else in the world, she just wishes it was occasionally a little more tender, not quite so forthright; He is so full of love but a little short on sentiment. But, then, there were all those unbelievable moments when the sick were cured and the poor were fed; and He even brought the dead back to life; for all its trials, she could not imagine a better life and a better son.

But she knew it would end in trouble; it was bound to, with all that preaching against the Scribes and the Pharisees. In an occupied land where people had to make unpleasant compromises, no leader was ever safe; the Jewish religious leaders had to be careful to balance their authority over the people and their unwritten deal with the Romans; and Jesus had steadily undermined their authority. Nicodemus had said a quiet word to her now and again but it had made no difference.

So here He is now, hanging from the Cross and here is Mary, patiently waiting for the end she knows will come soon; but she cannot quite see this end. She still believes the Angel who said Her Son was the Son of God, brought into being through her by the Holy Spirit; she still remembers Simeon's promise that her son would be a light to the Gentiles and she, with a mother's faith, always stored away what He said without wanting immediate answers. He has said He will establish His Heavenly Father's kingdom on earth; and He has said He will rise again after three days.

Here, in this desolate landscape, amidst the rubbish rotting in the Mediterranean sun, amidst the blood and guts of another batch of Crucifixions, there is an incongruous note of joy amidst the sorrow. Something will happen. Something must happen; she has to believe this or her whole life will have made no sense.

And as the men sat over the dregs of their cheap wine, stretching out towards the meaning of what Jesus told them, the women gathered quietly to comment on the day's events, strengthened by the conviction of Mary that they were on a special mission; and even now, when all seems lost, they are still there; something is holding them to the spot, keeping them next to Mary as Jesus cries out.

And, being women, there has to be a plan past the immediate present. You can't give way to total suffering; you can't go into yourself and hope that the rest of the world will manage; because the Disciples won't sort out the embalming and, in their distress and fear they won't buy food and prepare it. Their emotional disintegration will be made worse by poor food and too much wine if the women are not there to put things right.

And so, even as Her Son is dying, Mary cannot be totally self absorbed; the woman who has given life to Jesus and the whole of her life to Jesus is still giving it now, still making a sacrifice of her own emotional preferences, still thinking of others when she wants to focus on her Son, still seeing a tomorrow when today is such a disaster; and then, in excruciating agony, Her Son's cry tears through the sneering hubbub around her; and He dies. For a split second there is nothing; and then she feels the movement of the Holy Spirit within her.

Prayer. Jesus, Saviour of the World, may we not run away when called upon to bear witness to Your saving mission. May we be faithful and humble like Mary and the women as we now stand at the foot of the Cross. Even now, as you are suspended between earthly life and Heavenly Glory, we pray for Your help that we may be Your faithful servants in adversity to the end. And, as You commended Your mother, Mary, to Your disciples, may we take her into our hearts as an icon of what You want and what you have made possible for all Your creatures. Fortified by Your love, may we watch and pray in obedience to the Father and at one with the Holy Spirit. Amen.