Friday, March 21, 2008

13th Station: Jesus is taken down from the Cross

I would have given my life to avoid this moment. Never did I expect, when Jesus called me to follow him, that I would, one day, be helping to remove his body from a Cross, to place it in the waiting arms of his mother, now my mother also.

How do I describe her utter weariness? It is almost as though her whole life has been building up to this moment and now that Jesus has died, there is nothing more that can be drained from her. Mary has given her all, just as her Son placed himself entirely in the hands of his Father in Heaven. I, John, was at the foot of the Cross with Mary and heard that anguished and yet triumphant cry of Jesus as he breathed his last.

Where did he find the strength? He had suffered beyond any limits of human endurance and yet, within the last seconds, managed to pull himself up on his hands, forcing even more pain into his feet as they pressed against the Cross, declaring that he was about to commend his spirit into the hands of his Father. By rights, he should not even have had the strength left to utter a single word. Yet, even those words were not his all. His very last speech was a simple statement: “It is finished”.

It seems to me as though, when Jesus died, it was not slavish obedience to a Father who demanded the utmost and who inflicted brutality beyond description as a test of loyalty. It looks as though Jesus had a choice at any moment. He chose to put his life into his Father’s hands. If that is what happened, then does that not mean that his death was, in fact, the supreme act of freedom? Does that not mean that his refusal to defend himself or to run away were also acts of freedom and not of compulsion? Did the death of Jesus teach us something about obedience and also about freedom?

As I stand here beside Mary, waiting for the moment when we can remove the body of Jesus to his tomb, I cannot help looking back on all that she has told me. The angel offered her the choice of motherhood, even though her unmarried status would open her to criticism and the possibility of being stoned to death for adultery. Yet she chose to say ‘yes’ to the angel’s invitation. Simeon and Anna foretold a sword of sorrow, but she still said ‘yes’. She did not plead with Jesus to stay at her side when Joseph died, but allowed him to leave Nazareth and head towards the River Jordan and John the Baptist.

For Mary, too, obedience meant a free choice, not compulsion. Had she refused God’s request through the angel, what would have happened? Would God have looked elsewhere? Did he know her so fully that although he gave her a choice, he also knew that she would accept?

Mary’s hands stroke the matted, bloody hair of Jesus. There must have been times when she did the same thing when he was just a baby or a small child. Is she remembering those moments? What are her thoughts at this time? Is her heart too full for words to form? I do not know. My own brain is almost a blank slate, overflowing with too many images and thoughts. Pain reaches a stage when any increase is imperceptible; when all that exists is pain and so one more makes little difference. I think that Mary and I have both reached that stage.

Mary and I were not the only ones at the foot of the Cross. There were other women there also, but none of the Disciples of Jesus apart from myself. That is something I find bitterly disappointing. Jesus spent so much time with us and yet his friends deserted him.

Even on the Cross, Jesus called out to his Father, “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?” It was not only his friends who abandoned him. He felt himself even without his Father and his God! That was the abyss of loneliness!

Yet we were there, and every moment of his agony was ours. Now he is at peace, but we who truly loved him will bear forever the sight of the crucified Jesus in our hearts and minds. Our suffering continues.

The guards are still around in a desultory sort of way. The fact of the Sabbath closing in has urged them onwards. They feared that the two thieves crucified alongside Jesus might survive until the morning. Crucifixion is usually a slow death. In order to preserve the sacredness of the Sabbath, they caused two more deaths, breaking the legs of the thieves in order to hasten their ends. Those two men have almost reached their last moment. One of them, his eyes glazing over, is watching Jesus and Mary. He is the one whom Jesus promised a place in Paradise this very day. What are his thoughts? The sad thing is that whereas Jesus felt himself to be deserted even in the presence of some of those who loved him most dearly, these thieves were truly abandoned. I did not see a single person at the foot of their gibbets. I hope that they will have people who will mourn them, but it is sad that nobody braved recognition in order to give at least a minimum of support as they suffered beside Jesus.

Joseph of Arimathea. Faithful friend. You first approached Jesus at night lest you be recognised by others. Yet, in the end, you approached Herod and asked for the body of Jesus. You offered Mary your own tomb for her Son. We could not have prepared a burial place for Jesus within the space of a few unexpected hours. Were it not for your concern, Jesus would have been laid in the ground as a pauper, for we could not buy something more suitable.

It is interesting that, once again, there is a Jesus, Mary and Joseph. What is it about the name of Joseph that he is there at the beginning and the end of the life of Jesus as someone who is faithful, responsible and caring? Was Joseph the carpenter of Nazareth acting through Joseph of Arimathea? Who knows but God?

Mary is crooning a lullaby to Jesus, perhaps one she used when he was a baby. The sword of sorrow has pierced her heart, but she will continue living. She has not been destroyed by the death of her Son. She is here when we most need a mother.

God bless,
Sr. Janet
PS The 14th Station will be posted later on today