Mary, the mother of Jesus, is a person who fascinates me. She scares some, and attracts others, but she rarely fails to have an impact. I have learnt so much by spending time with her, imaginatively. There are so many hidden depths to her character. As probably a very young teenager, she faced a near impossible ask, and had to face the potential of losing her life, never mind her reputation, by her obedience.
She said Yes-
but suppose the answer had been NO?
and Heaven held it’s breath
as in that startled moment
a teenage lass
looked an angel in the face.
Cascades of questions
in tug of terror and of trust
as wide eyed in wonder
it dawned on her
the choice was hers
and hers alone.
Yet the choice was not to choose
to surrender choice itself
taking the gift
God gives with life and breath,
to lay it down.
Her Yes was all that she could give
took all she had
to hold the angel’s eye.
‘Let it be to
me as you have said’
and Heaven’s gate swung wide..
What a journey that nine months must have been! It is for any woman, expecting a baby, but the emotional roller coaster Mary went on, from that Yes, to the moment she held her son in her arms, is almost beyond imagining. Facing possible stoning , certain divorce, and having to explain the unexplainable. Spending time with her also-pregnant-in-miraculous-circumstances cousin, Elizabeth, and finally having someone understand, must have been a huge comfort and relief.
A long, weary journey, at the height of pregnancy, is never recommended. (trust me, I was a midwife, once upon a long time ago). A long weary journey with no accommodation provision, let alone medical cover- Mary didn’t even have a friendly face to greet her in Bethlehem. The labour and birth itself, scary to almost every first time mum, must have been a lonely, frightening experience. Then the precious, never, forgotten moment of holding her baby for the first time. This son, who had turned her life upside down.
Upside Down Miracles
Exhausted, yet wide awake,
my body spent, yet every nerve alive.
we one have become Two.
He who lately stirred in me, moved
more than limbs, whose spirit sang
with mine, filling my soul with wordless awe:
now like a lamb, lies in the straw.
God’s perfect lamb…that shepherds knelt to see.
my tiny lamb…so vulnerable
that I would hide him from the fears that lurk, and
what the future may require..
Who then is he, whose soft breath on my neck
nuzzles me close, and with his
fingers in mine, I wonder with a kiss
just who is holding who?
The poems above, are mine. Recently, I came across someone else who has spent time with Mary, and expressed their thoughts in poetry. Frances Croak Frank came up with an insight on Mary that took my breath away.
Did the woman say,
When she held him for the first time in the dark of a stable,
After the pain and the bleeding and the crying,
‘This is my body, this is my blood?’
Did the woman say,
When she held him for the last time in the dark rain on a hilltop,
After the pain and the bleeding and the dying,
‘This is my body, this is my blood?’
Well that she said it to him then,
For dry old men,
Brocaded robes belying barrenness
Ordain that she may not say it for him now.
Allot has been written on the priesthood of Mary, the Christ-Bearer, an angle I had never considered – and yet the association with the words “This is my body, this is my blood” is so startlingly obvious, that I cannot believe I have never made the connection before. The poem is about women in the priesthood, but this was not what primarily grabbed me. Mary’s pain, watching her son die an agonising death, and then holding his lifeless body in her arms is unbearable. When he was a tiny baby, being presented in the Temple, Simeon had told her that “a sword would pierce her heart” . Those words must have haunted her through the years, and I am sure would have played loudly in her head as they came true, before her heart-broken eyes. How do you begin to deal with something like that?
But deal she did, and her journey continued, round the awesome bend of meeting her resurrected son, come back from the dead. Scripture doesn’t describe that meeting, or even tell us that it happened- but I can’t imagine that it didn’t. That she wasn’t allowed that privilege, along with the disciples. What a moment that would have been! We find her next, with the gathered faithful in the upper room .
“They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.”
She will have received the Holy Spirit, though I imagine that the experience had a feeling of deja-vu, flames alighting on her head, small fry, compared to angels appearing with life- shattering news.
We hear no more of her by name, in Scripture, although tradition has her travelling to Ephesus with John, ‘the disciple who Jesus loved’ and the one into whose care Jesus had entrusted her. Historians, Irenaeus and Eusebius of Caesarea, write of John ‘The Evangelist’ travelling there, which is probably the basis of the association.
When I was licensed an Anglican Reader, the preacher took Mary’s obedient Yes, as her subject and gave us each a postcard of The Walking Madonna – a bronze by Elizabeth Frink, which stands in the grounds of Salisbury Cathedral. She quoted the words below, which come from a sermon preached by Revd Professor Frances Young at the Easter dawn service in Salisbury.
“In the Cathedral Close is the most potent symbol of resurrection – Elizabeth Frink’s Walking Madonna, striding forth to bring Christ into the world – not as the teenage Virgin, pregnant with the new humanity, but an older Mary, stripped down, thin and ascetic, stomach hollow, face pinched and haggard with suffering – one who has been through the experience of the Pieta and held the dead body of her son across her knee, but now is determined and invigorated with resurrection life – “walking with purposeful compassion as a member of the community of the Risen Christ, to bring love where love is absent.”
May we tread in her steps, filled with light and love and joy, for the Dayspring from on high has visited us, and Christ is risen – Alleluia. Amen.”
This week has been a very hard one. I have known the heartbreak of Christ’s broken body in a very real way. The broken body of his church, that is. A situation that was a microcosm of the global picture. It tore my heart to see it, be a part of it, and know how much more God’s heart must be breaking. I also witnessed very large portions of Grace- shared like the bread broken for the multitudes. More than enough for all.
I experienced too, the most profound Eucharist I have ever had, in my whole life of faith. A simple service, where every line of liturgy and sermon was imbued with grace, healing and forgiveness. I cried through the whole of it, and could barely swallow the gifts of Grace and undeserved Love, when they were given to me. They were too costly to take in, on any level.
“This is my body, this is my blood” Mary knew the cost, as no one else could. Apart from the Father, that is. My prayer is that I can with her, walk “with purposeful compassion as a member of the community of the Risen Christ, to bring love where love is absent.”