Be Present with Mary: Luke 1.46–55 and John 19.16–30

2018 Good FridayPartial order of worship and full homily for Good Friday,
March 30, 2018
at Ames United Church of Christ.

©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

One:    Judas, slave of jealousy, where are you?
Many: I am here.

One:    Peter, slave of fear, where are you?
Many: I am here.

One:    Pilate, slave of Empire, where are you?
Many: I am here.

One:    The story of the execution of Jesus is the story of our own weakness and shortcomings, as people who have missed the mark on justice and so have alienated ourselves from God and neighbor. So tonight as we sit at the foot of the cross, we seek the ones who remained, who did not falter in devotion or love.

One:    Mary, mother of Jesus, where are you?
Many: I am here.

GOSPEL: Luke 1.46–55: The Magnificat

GOSPEL: John 19.16–30: The Crucifixion

One:    Mary,
Many: is this your son Jesus hanging on the cross?

One:    Mary,
Many: does your soul still magnify the Lord?

One:    Mary,
Many: does your spirit yet rejoice in God?

One:    Mary,
Many: where is God’s favor now?

One:    Mary,
Many: how can we call you blessed when surely you are deserted?

One:    Mary,
Many: is God’s mercy gone?

One:    Mary,
Many: tonight the powerful are comfortable and laughing while the weak are tear-soaked and frightened.

One:    Mary,
Many: tonight your child is dead.

HOMILY: Be Present with Mary

No Gospel
I wish we had a Gospel of Mary. There’s a Gospel of Mary Magdalene, which several of us studied last fall. In it, Mary Magdalene continues to be the apostle to all other apostles. Just as she is the first to receive the good news of the empty tomb, she is the first to receive ongoing, secret teachings from the resurrected Jesus. He tells her not to listen to anyone but him, do not trust those men who would make new rules about him, and be fearless.

But we hear nothing from Mary, the Mother of Jesus, after his death. In fact, this account of her standing at Jesus’s cross is the only mention of her in John’s gospel at all, and you may have noticed that she doesn’t even get a name. Mother Mary doesn’t fare much better in the others, either: She is merely mentioned in Mark as one woman among many. In Matthew, Mary is a problem that Joseph has to solve.

It is only Luke that privileges Mary, yet even then she is not a whole person unto herself. If you remember the birth narrative, we hear all about how Mary’s cousin Elizabeth has been married for years and has begged God to get pregnant. Mary, not married at all, gets pregnant without even knowing it. Mary may be a willing participant in that miracle, but she didn’t petition to be one.

Mary is an enigma often sidelined and, when not, she is a vessel without agency.

Surely that vessel broke at the sight we hear described tonight.

There is no making this part of the story easier or softer. It is ghastly. The reason Jesus’ head hangs on a crucifix is not just because he is dead and lifeless. It is his hanging head that killed him: Crucifixion kills by so depleting a body that the neck is too weak to uphold the head. So the sentenced person dies of suffocation.

And there is Mary watching it all. There is Mary seeing her child die. She may have seen this coming.

Recall the story of Jesus refusing to come home from the temple as a youth. He explains that the house of God is the home of his true parent. This was not a kid who was ever going to become the traditional head of a household.1 And then he proved to be dynamic, compelling, shocking, and unnaturally powerful.

As a woman, Mary would have known best the limits their world placed on people of her family’s standing and the punishments for pushing those limits. That day at the cross may have been her greatest fear realized.

Was Mary angry at Jesus? Did she yell at God? Did she berate herself? Did Mary turn on that beloved disciple for failing to protect her son and the rest of them for abandoning him at the end? They who had gotten such glory by his side yet could not remain when it had been split open by a whip.

And what did she think when she heard about the empty tomb? Did she not have a story to tell then?

Maybe the reason Mary the mother of Jesus never gained a following, and the gospel that would have come with one, was because his resurrection was not enough for her. Resurrection did not bring a son back to a mother—it spread his life forces out even further for the rest of the world.

This is a moment without resolution, one of questions without any answers. Regardless of what is coming on Sunday morning, for a mother, for a parent, I do not believe a moment like this moment ever ends. This kind of grief never really ends.

Though we do not have a record of Mary’s speech, we do have this testimony to her presence. Presence is the heart of grief. Being with the dying, being with the mourning, not shying away from what eventually comes to us all: loss and death.

So tonight we are simply present with Mary, and each other, resisting the impulse to offer empty platitudes or bad theologies. And tonight, aware of all that his life cost her, we promise to remain faithful to her precious son.


1Thank you to Howard Thurman in his Temptations of Jesus for this insight.

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