5 Mary, his mother

30 March, 7:30pm: Mary, his mother

Full notes from Frances Ballantyne’s talk were made available on the Spalding Baptist church website along with her PowerPoint slides. Her contribution – the last in this year’s series on seeing the Cross – is summarised below.

The Lent series in 2020 has offered those gathering from the wider church a broader look at the cross from various perspectives. Here we see the cross from a mother’s eyes, watching, wondering, drawing on her experience, her response to the revelation of God and significance in the history of the early church.

Different traditions see her in different ways; Frances asks ‘Did she bear other children? Did she rise to glory like Elijah or Enoch? How did she die, and at what age? And why was she deemed special in a tradition that valued the priestly line as coming from Peter?’

So where do we sit with our belief about Mary? We know that she was a worshipper from her Jewish upbringing who responded to God’s call ‘You chose me! What an honour’ – or, our speaker asks, is she to be worshipped and venerated? From your answer you see Mary and you see her Son and you see yourself.

* Mary with her calling to be a vessel to contain Gods Son to birth him into humanity, and to become her Saviour

* With her song of Magnificat but without the question of why me? More how and when and why?

Mary is significant. She’s around at a beginning - a new era, the dawning of a New Covenant.

Where she has come from we don’t know, but she has faith. Faith in the God who has revealed himself though the Jewish tradition, and now she has her own story to tell.

It’s a 'once upon a time…' Someone listened to her story, someone heard her journal, heard extracts from her diary (a remembrance oral diary) and Luke must have enjoyed these conversations with Mary. He reflects, he asks questions and he invites us to eavesdrop this evening.

It starts before the crucifixion, but grief takes her back. It starts at the point where Mary might be about 14 when it began for this mother to be. Our speaker invites us to imagine that we are on the veranda as they begin:

A soft wind blows across the roof where Mary and her guest sit talking. The sun is beginning to set and Mary asks Luke if he would like something to eat. Frances offers a picture of a house with outside stairs, then a table of food as Mary went down outside stairs of the house, returning with a supper for her guest.

“I was 14 when I learnt that Elizabeth was pregnant and I remember taking a walk along my favourite trail. Joseph and I had just become engaged and we hoped to be married in the Autumn. We were both from poor families and I was already thinking of ways to stretch his income from his carpentry work.

“Can I be a submissive wife? I had my own ideas and enjoyed being alone. What would Joseph think about that part of my personality?

“Then I arrived home I was aware of a golden light in the dark room… Then I saw the angel!”

Luke couldn’t sit still any longer. “An angel! Mary! Just think Gabriel himself sent especially to see you! I can’t imagine what that would be like.”

Mary’s eyes shone; “How can one describe the slightest experience of Heaven? I trembled for a long time after he left and then the joy began to come; I was to be the mother of the Messiah. I tried to remember the prophecies I had heard about the Messiah – there were too many to relate.”

Mary visited Elizabeth and Zechariah and stayed about three months. “How Elizabeth helped me, showing me how to weave a small woollen cradle for day use and night use. The joy – yes, that joy as we rejoiced that God … Something was coming alive that we had hoped for – and we were part of it.”

Frances said that there were so many questions that Elizabeth and Zechariah were speaking and writing notes. Zachariah would speak again when his son John was born - coming just before my birth time.

“I knew my faith in God would hold me. I was willing to give my mind, my body, my reputation, my very life to accomplish HIS great plan.”

Luke interrupts the flow to ask Mary why she didn’t stay until Elizabeth herself had given birth: “But didn’t Joseph need to know her news before it became too obvious?”

Mary returned to Nazareth, to tell Joseph; he didn’t believe me, he turned away. The next day he came back and said “Mary, I will always love you. Maybe a bill of divorce to shield you…” He was tender and firm but Mary wept. Every negative thought raced through - death in childbirth, a life lived as an outcast, no money for food or clothes… GOD why have you done this to me? Mary sensed the reply “TRUST ME.”

Showing a picture ‘Together’, Frances suggested that Luke asked “What happened then?”

“Well, he had a dream and knew this was all Gods doing. That’s all Joseph needed. He came to my door at cockcrow ready to make plans for a simple celebration with families and a few close friends. Joseph approached under the wedding canopy with his best man we quoted the wedding verses from Song of Solomon. We had the wedding meal - not quite the seven day feast but I was content.

“I enjoyed keeping our home and with Joseph by my side I felt relaxed and secure. We were OK because our society recognizes rights and obligations during the betrothal of a child conceived. Joseph just let them think it was his!”

Our speaker suggests that Luke speeds the story along, showing a picture of a manger.

The Baby arrived in Bethlehem Joseph came into the room, according to our custom, held it on his knee to show that the baby was legitimate, we washed him, rubbed him with salt to harden his skin and wrapped him in bands of cloth and waited until the visitors came.

“The shepherds, the wise men and then we were aware that we needed to escape the power playing schemes of Herod. So we fled like refugees to Egypt; we lived there for several years because Herod wanted all under two years to be killed. We came back after Herod died settling into the quietness of Nazareth.”

Showing a picture of Mary’s heart being pierced, Frances added, “Knew I’d forgotten something Luke , we visited the temple when Jesus was presented seven days old or so, as was our custom and the priest Simeon was on duty and gave me such words that said suffering would play its part in my life and sons life it was like a sword a warning, a prophecy that would be fulfilled at the right time.

“So being God’s faithful Handmaid would involve more than I could possibly ask or imagine; being a mother had its rewards but it could also be very taxing. What was ahead of us?”

Luke then begins to explore the growing up years; the picture changes to a Visit to the Temple

“I was so cross when he disappeared . we thought we lost him. Our annual pilgrimage to the temple we went in our families, crowds of us. What a worrying time that was days journeys back and forth; nobody had seen him he wasn’t with our neighbours so we returned and found him sitting among the teachers. A 12 year old, curious, interested, fascinated in the Word of God, fascinated in the critical debating, wanting to learn so much. I think he was giving as good as he got - after all, I know he’s a bright lad, he takes after His Mum…”

The picture changes: Water into Wine

“How can I explain those years beyond that?” says Mary. “He became the man of the house when Joseph died. He learnt his father’s trade of carpentry…”

Mary seemed a bit vague about some of these intervening years; perhaps it wasn’t important to share. He left at some stage as they do and then saw him at a family wedding with his new friends.

Perhaps she saw that purpose start unfolding? “Water into wine; weren’t you there Luke? It was amazing wine wasn’t it? The best!

“But, as only mothers know, He was ready to begin, He’d been baptised by John. He’d been away in that wilderness time and now I’d got to see, wonder, hope, and pray and hold faith.

“He didn’t need my permission, but I encouraged him. It was a pivotal story, that first miracle, from the old to the new - a sign of the kingdom.

“It has arrived. He has arrived. Each new insight was a like a mysterious treasure.” So I pondered - had done from his birth. I’m a deep thinker, reflecting, reframing as I’ve had new information. I’m getting older too, but He is my Son and I’m following him, every footstep, every fear and joy. He’s in my heart. I carry Him around. I know he loves me too.”

Mary jumps forward: “Do you remember at the cross? He asks John the belovèd to look after me – my Son loves me enough to care at his most lonely. He puts the lonely in families.

The picture moves on: ‘He healed’

“Jesus made people think; he healed - I wasn’t always there, but you saw you witnessed. You can write about those times, Luke. After all you saw the impossible, you saw the ordinary be transformed into the extraordinary. You saw the power of God work in the present. Pinch yourself, Luke - humanly speaking, no, but with divine power, yes.

The image changes: ‘He taught’

“He taught about the kingdom, about prayer, about forgiveness about justice, about relationships with each other and with His Father. It’s all a bit of a muddle there was so much; you can lay it out better than me. I’m not good with this next chapter of my diary, Luke, it’s not good. Yes, I know Jesus touched many lives for good but he certainly wasn’t the best at conforming, especially if it cut across His Father’s will and purpose. He wasn’t very good at maintaining the status quo - he saw injustices and he spoke up and out.

“Maybe I cringed many a time maybe I wished he’d play it safe. BUT the inevitable was coming. Some times I remember too vividly, sometimes the pain hasn’t eased at all, even though I know he lives and he showed himself to us afterwards - in the upper Room. We were there then as well, weren’t we Luke? But that dark time took my life, too.”

The scene changes to ‘Carrying the cross’

“My neighbour banged my door telling me Jesus had been arrested. I dropped the plate I was holding and my heart went numb. I shouldn’t have been shocked. Jesus had been causing a stir ever since he left Nazareth to preach.

“My neighbour came with me as I was now a widow and could not travel alone the long distance to Jerusalem. I prayed for Jesus that he would be able to endure whatever was happening to him. I had not forgotten my encounter with Simeon over 30 years ago. I knew the worst was still to come.

“We arrived in Jerusalem, to great crowds and jeering ‘Crucify Him, Crucify Him!’

“I heard the wailing of women following the man condemned to die. In one shuddering gasp I saw my son I thought my heart would fall out of me. No words, only a mother’s anguish. I knew I needed to stay close to him. I really don’t know how I walked in the suffering footsteps of my son. It is enough that I felt with him.”

The picture changes: ‘At His feet’

“I was there on that green hill. I have no idea how long it took Jesus to get there where they crucified criminals. I stood there in my intense aloneness, supportive arms came around my shoulders, I turned and saw my friends, Mary Magdalene and Mary, the wife of Cleopas and then the disciple John joined us. The presence of these three brave souls comforted me in my desolation. I knew they felt my pain and my sons.

“And then he was nailed, and then I stopped being able to take anymore.

“Our eyes met…

“The vigil at the cross felt endless, seeing my son’s life ebb away. ‘Into your hands I commit my spirit’ were his final words and I then knew he had come to terms with his suffering. It was over.”

The image goes dark.

My belovèd son was dead. And a sword will pierce my heart; the deed was done. My heart would be forever marked by it. I had done the work My God has asked me to do; I was exhausted, I was finished.”

The picture changes: Pieta

And so we see - I hope we see - seeing the cross as Mary would see it. From her yes to give birth, through her life with Him, his life with her, pondering as only his mother could, treasuring in her heart as only a mother can.

And we close her diary, and bid them farewell, and bring ourselves out from the pages that Luke wrote.

The landscape shows an Empty cross

“Master,” a student asks, in the old days there were people who could see God, “Why is it that nobody sees God nowadays?”

The old man answered, “My child nobody can stoop so low as to set aside their reputations the way Mary did. It is easy to serve when it makes us look good, but hard when no one knows or seems to appreciate our service.”

Frances concludes with these questions: ‘Can you see Mary? Can you see Jesus?’

Prayer: We cannot fathom the depth of the love of the mother of God, the greater the love, the greater the sufferings of the soul. The fuller the love the fuller the knowledge of God. The more ardent the love, the more fervent the prayer. The more perfect the love, the holier the life.

Concluding hymn: Were you there when they crucified my Lord?