Saturday, March 22, 2008

Holy Saturday

The room is quiet and I have been left alone with my thoughts, my memories and my pain. The early morning sunlight filters through the window, bringing a patch of pleasant warmth to my aching shoulders. It then travels, laden with dust-motes, to the roughly tiled floor. It is almost as if each tiny piece of dust, borne by the breeze, is a thought, a memory. I am tired, so very tired, more tired than I ever imagined possible.

Yet I have known tiredness before. I have known what it is like to feel unutterably weary at the end of the day and yet know that, as a wife and mother, my day had not ended for there were jobs still waiting to be done.

It is not easy to be a mother. There are abundant joys, but there are also sorrows. A mother takes upon herself the joys and sorrows, the successes and failures, the highs and lows of every member of her family, for this is what it means to be a mother. Motherhood is a vocation, a calling, in which one woman becomes many people. In a strange way that is difficult to describe, with the arrival of her first child, a woman ceases to be ‘I’ and is ‘we’ for the rest of her life. Yes, a woman and a man make a child, but it is the child who transforms them into a mother and a father. The child creates every bit as much as its parents.

As I lean back on the stone wall, gazing at the pillars, quiet sounds of busy streets filter through from the background to the foreground. Sound. Light. Stone. They are all one, just as the wooden table and the low couches, now pushed back against the wall are also one. They are not needed today, for it is all over. It is the Sabbath, a day of rest ordained by the Almighty, but, to be honest, I do not have the energy to do anything other than rest…and think…and remember…

There was a time, of course, when my hands were busy with all the little tasks of motherhood. I had a baby who needed to be fed, washed and clothed. Many were the hours when I held him closely to myself, thinking those secret thoughts that are not even shared with a much-loved husband. I treasured his tiny hands, gently unfurling his fingers and pressing them closely to my lips. His toes, waving backwards and forwards in unending movement, were always a source of wonder and admiration. Could I possibly put into words my joy when he first used the word, “Mamma”? Could I describe the light in Joseph’s eyes when Jesus first called him “Abba”?

Joseph and I taught Jesus to walk, but even before he could stumble around the house by himself, he would crawl to Joseph’s side as he worked. Even if it were not customary for the father’s trade to be handed on to the son, Jesus would have chosen to be a carpenter. He loved wood and could draw out of it a loveliness that even Joseph, with all his skill, could not equal.

It is customary that a child is considered Jewish because of his mother, and so it was that mine was the first responsibility of passing on to Jesus all of our precious traditions and prayers, but it was Joseph who took hold of Jesus’ hand and took him to the synagogue on the day that Jesus started school.

We were both so proud of Jesus, but Joseph nearly burst with joy that he was known as ‘Jesus bar-Joseph’, ‘Jesus, son of Joseph’. Of course, we knew that there was another story, unknown to the other people of Nazareth, but no earthly father could have loved Jesus more than Joseph.

The day came, all too soon, when Joseph died and Jesus and I had to make a new life without his comfort and strength. Jesus and I both missed Joseph’s humour and his quiet voice. I think that had it not been for the comforting arm of Jesus around my shoulders, Joseph’s death would have been much harder to bear. We were such a happy family.

The years passed and the evening came when Jesus sat beside me and told me that he would be leaving our home and the carpenter’s shop. He “must go about his father’s business” were the words he used, the same words, in fact, that he had spoken when Joseph and I found him in the Temple when Jesus went missing for three terrible, unforgotten, agonising days.

It was, then, with a mixture of sorrow and pride that I helped to bundle up some small items of clothing and food for Jesus as he set out very early the next morning. I probably overloaded him with food, but isn’t that exactly what all mothers do? We give children food as a way of showing them just how much they are loved. Food somehow acts as an unspoken, ‘I love you’ that is common to all mothers.

I stood at the door, watching Jesus walk away from Nazareth until I could see him no more. Life would be lonely without him…and it was. Although I heard so many reports of all that he was saying and doing around Galilee and Judaea, it wasn’t the same as having him at home, leaving his carpenter’s tools around the house in inconvenient places.

…and now, I sit in this Upper Room and look back at one of the very last scenes of his freedom. It was at this table that he sat, on one of these couches that he reclined for the Passover meal with his friends. It was here that they divided up the sacrificial lamb, flavoured with bitter herbs. John, as the youngest, would have asked the ritual question, Why is this night different from all other nights?” Jesus would have responded by telling the story of Moses and Israel’s escape from Egypt.

Yet that night was so different from any other night. John has repeatedly told me of each and every minute… John, young and enthusiastic, is now a son to replace my Jesus. John and I both know that this is a replacement that neither of us wanted. Was it not typical of Jesus that, at the height of his pain and when he was dying, he should think of someone else rather than of himself? Jesus knew that I would willingly have suffered every blow, every insult, every pain in order to protect my beloved child, but even when, I am sure, he could bear no more, he decided to protect me instead.

Peter and Judas. You both betrayed someone you loved dearly and saw, in one blinding flash of recognition, the terrible deed you had done. The difference between you is that Judas could not live with the guilt of this awful realisation. Peter, you will have to live with it at every moment for the rest of your life. For Judas, it was the source of immense despair, for you, Peter, it will be the driving force for the rest of your life.

James, you who follow the letter of the law and hold so firmly to our cherished traditions, you, too, have been forced to take stock of everything during the past couple of days. Will you still be a legislator, or will you find compassion and understanding will season your judgements?

Matthew. You were a tax-collector before you met Jesus. What will you do now? You are educated beyond most of the Disciples. You can read and write. How will you use those skills? You cannot go back to your piles of other people’s money because you met Jesus and were changed forever.

Thomas, the doubter, the questioner. Not everybody realised that your questions were asked because you could see more deeply. You did not seek understanding so much as to understand more clearly. There is a huge difference. You will lead many to grasp what Jesus was actually saying when, at times, he might have seemed obscure and difficult to comprehend.

For myself, I followed my Jesus even to the bitter end. I heard his every word, every gasp as he hung on the Cross. I held him in my arms when he was taken down. I accompanied my Son to another person’s tomb. I watched as the stone was rolled across the entrance.

…and now, I sit here in the Upper Room. I, too, have my life ahead of me. A lifetime can be a very long period, even in one’s later years. I sit here, in the Upper Room, because I feel closer to my living Son, my child. I live, but my mother’s heart and soul are there with him, in the tomb…

God bless,
Sr. Janet