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A Mother of Sorrow: Mary’s Story

September 14, 2019

When we were on our Ignatian Silent Retreat at Spring Hill College this past June, I spent a lot of time with this painting of Mary, the Mother of Jesus in the old wood framed Sodality Chapel. This portrait was painted by Spring Hill Alumnae and Mobile, AL Artist, Stephanie Morris. The model was a Spring Hill College student. As I spent time with Mary, her eyes truly reached out and spoke to my heart and soul.

This is the final sermon in the series on The Women in Jesus’s Genealogy. Three of the women were not in his Genealogy but their stories were well worth exploring. I have explored the stories and contemplated the lives of Eve (Denise preached that sermon), Ruth, Rahab, Bathsheba, The Canaanite Woman at the Well, Mary Magdalene, and now Mary, the Mother of Jesus.

As I have written and preached before, Mary is often problematic for Protestants. In part the difficulty is in the way she is elevated in the Catholic Church. Yet many Catholic folks I know don’t believe she should be elevated to the level of God any more than Protestants do. Yet as a part of the Reformation, Mary was pretty much thrown out all together. My own journey as a Presbyterian with Mary has been challenging as well as enlightening. I have come to a deeper understanding of Mary. I truly admire her and have learned much from sitting with her. So, let’s get to the subject of this final reflection in this series.

The two scripture readings that I am using tomorrow bookend the life of Jesus. In Luke 2:33-35 we hear the following somber news after Simeon blesses Jesus. In context, Jesus was brought to the Temple by his parents. Simeon was overjoyed that the long-awaited Messiah had finally come and he was alive to see it.

And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” – Luke 2:33-35

Can you imagine? As I think about Mary hearing the last part of the blessing on top of all that she had heard at Jesus’s birth I am overwhelmed! A sword will pierce your own soul too!

As we remember the birth narrative, we can see how Mary’s life with Joseph didn’t exactly begin normally. They didn’t have a typical betrothal. The gossip must have flown around as she began to show and as the story of God overshadowing her came out. At one point, Joseph even considered quietly divorcing her. Yet God interceded through the angelic visitors and they found their way forward as a couple.

In the birth narrative, following the visits of the Shepherds and their stories of angels, she pondered all that she had seen and heard in her heart. Forty days later the family goes to the Temple for what should be the standard purification of Mary following the birth of Jesus. Joseph and Mary were also supposed to present and dedicate their first-born son to God in order to fulfill the law in Exodus 13.

As I said earlier, when the 40-day old infant Jesus was presented to Simeon and he immediately proclaimed his joy in a very familiar passage of Scripture.

Simeon took him into his arms and blessed God: God, you can now release your servant; release me in peace as you promised. With my own eyes I’ve seen your salvation; it’s now out in the open for everyone to see: A God-revealing light to the non-Jewish nations, and of glory for your people Israel. – Luke 2:29-32 (The Message Translation)

There was so much for Mary to ponder in those early days. There would be so much more to ponder as Jesus grew from a baby to a young boy and finally into a man. Yet lurking in the back of her mind must have been the words of Simeon: a sword will pierce your own soul too.

Scripture is quiet when it comes to the growing up years of Jesus. After the incident in the Temple where the twelve-year-old Jesus was amazing the religious leaders, we hear nothing about his life until he appears as a part of the crowd following John the Baptist and asks John to baptize him.

The three years of Jesus’s public ministry must have provided much to contemplate and be concerned about for his mother. More and more was poured into her heart as she followed Jesus, listened to his teaching, and watched the miracles.

Yet in the end, as the road led to Jerusalem for the final time her heart must have been heavy. As the intrigue unfolded did she remember the words of Simeon? Did she feel a pain and a piercing beginning in her heart?

The second reading from John 19:25b-30 is, I believe where her heart was pierced and broken as she watched her son dying an agonizing death on the cross. I can’t even imagine the pain as Jesus looked down from the cross and said goodbye to his mother. Yet in the midst of the pain, there was a loving and tender moment as he made sure that the woman who had given birth to him and raised him would be cared for.

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. – John 19:25b-27

The story has come full circle and now, with her son dying on the cross, her heart was pierced in a way it had never been pierced before. It was with this woman that I spent so much time reflecting in the Chapel at Spring Hill College. As I used the Ignatian practice of placing myself into the story, I felt her pain in a way I had never done before. During that week, I came to know Mary in a way that I hadn’t in the majority of my years in ministry.

As I looked into her eyes, I saw the pain and the peace. A wise woman who was forced to learn such harsh lessons at an early age. A woman who had to watch helplessly as the Empire executed her son. A woman who had to watch as the faith community turned its back on Jesus, and in essence, on her as well.

As I sat with her in the Chapel and as I have continued to do ever since, I felt a peace that I didn’t expect. As I sat with her, I heard her say “I am not God. I am the Mother of Jesus. Don’t worship me. Listen to me and learn from my story.”

May we do that as we consider Mary and the place she holds in the life of Jesus and in our own faith journey as well.

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