“Behold, your mother.” With a single phrase, Jesus gives the Church into the care of his most Holy Mother, and calls the Church to care for her…to take her in…in the person of the Beloved Disciple.
The Blessed Mother, Mary, is the only singularly human person who never failed to do what God desires. As we follow her from Gabriel’s Annunciation and her assent to God’s plan of salvation, through the years of care devoted to raising a child destined to be the downfall of many, we at last find her by the foot of the Cross. And it is here, in this moment, that Christ urges from the Cross that she take us as her own children with the words “Behold your Mother…woman, behold your son.”
If you seek and study the faith of the early Church, it becomes clear that Mary’s role in salvation is deeply graven in the heart of our Christian story, and it is to our detriment that we lose sight of Mary’s central role in the Incarnation. Contrary to what we hear, over and over again, The Blessed Mother is a whole lot more than merely a nice Jewish girl who gave birth to the Messiah. She is truly the Mother of God.
While no power in heaven or on earth can separate us from the love of God, Mary can indeed bring us closer. She is Daughter, Mother, Spouse to the one holy God. She is the New Ark of the Covenant. The first Ark contained the tablets of the law, Aaron’s Rod bloomed in to flower, and Manna that had fallen from heaven to feed God’s people. So while that Ark contained the commandments, the staff of the priesthood, and bread from heaven, so likewise did Mary carry within her the Lawgiver who gave us a new commandment to love one another as he had loved us, our great High priest, and the bread from heaven that feeds and satisfies us to eternal life.
Mary is the highest reflection of our agency – our human will – in response to God’s call to faithfulness. She didn’t merely consent to God’s Incarnation through her flesh, she gave assent…her “fiat” that it should be done to her according to God’s word. And it was. She is the first Tabernacle, the proto-Church, and it is she who gave her very flesh to God with Us!
Now, at the foot of the Cross, can any sorrow be compared to Mary’s watching her Son and the hope of Israel be put to death? Do you imagine that having him taken down from the Cross and anointed for burial, that Mary might have had to endure the cloying scent of cassia and nard and death on her hands for days as a reminder of her grief? “Behold, your Mother.”
Do you think that she did not weep that he wore a crown of thorns rather than the crown of the Kingship of Israel or the crown she had plaited and woven for a wedding day that now will never come? “Behold, your Mother.”
Do you think for a moment that our own doubts when it comes to the faith we profess aren’t mirrored deeply in the eyes of one who watches her Son thirst in agony on the Cross? Do you think for a moment she may have doubted Gabriel’s word that day that he told her “The Lord is with you, favored One?” “Behold, your Mother.”
All of our journey as faithful Christ-followers is to be found in the life and works of Mary, his Blessed Mother, and now ours. For if Christ is our brother, then how can Mary not also be our Mother? Given to us and we to her by Christ from the Cross, let us recall a lowly handmaiden who has been exalted by God for faithfully saying yes, until and beyond an ignoble end on the Cross that is itself, even yet, a beginning which we are at this moment incapable of fathoming.
Like at the beginning of our Christian story, I imagine Gabriel standing behind Mary as she watches her Son’s life pour out in pain. Here’s how I imagine what is in her heart:
She is the mother, reaches for a vessel;
Pours out wine upon the ground and prays
For water pure to wash away the foulness
Of death, to wring a river from a linen shroud.
Even Gabriel beside her weeps,
Cannot tell her not to be afraid, he chokes
Upon the tide of pain that washes up,
A flood of gall that rises in his throat.
What difference between swaddling and a shroud
When a mother’s hand has wound them both
And stained them both with tears of joy or pain? Or
That by a carpenter’s skilled hand the frame was built,
Both the manger and the cross made to receive him
Unforeseen? There’s no small irony.
Her face she lowers to the ground, and prays
For a swift hail of stones to end her pain.
Here these two in sorrow stand, old friends
Whose memories swirl around the air like ash
Or dust shaken from the scrolls where prophets’
Shadows wait, smile knowingly and sing.
Wait, O Lady, patiently, to bear him.
For he shall bear you also to the throne.
And in these final hours while your grief flows free
Take sweet Gabriel’s hand and weep for me.
My Sisters and Brothers – Behold, your Mother.
— Br. Karekin