Friday, September 17, 2010

Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows

Wednesday was the celebration of the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows which comes right on the heels of the Exaltation of the Cross. It is an interesting moment in the liturgical year as it is a moment of Marian devotion that seems to betray an exalted view of Mary. In other words, I think I got something from the texts that seems to make it not about Mary at all, but that Mary simply becomes a player in something about Jesus we are supposed to take note of. But perhaps this is hinted at when the readings turn early to Hebrews where a Jesus prays to the God who can deliver him from death only to realize suffering and death on the cross.

The gospel reading is from John's gospel, the crucifixion narrative. John 19:25-27:
Standing by 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 there whom he loved
he said to his mother, "Woman, behold, your son."
Then he said to the disciple,
"Behold, your mother."
And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.

And often our first inkling is that this is super nice of Jesus. Maybe Jesus is trying to alleviate the sword that is piercing his mother's heart? Of course this is not necessary for a couple of reasons: 1) Jesus is not an only child, so she has other options for the extended family (where is Joseph these days?) Even if you don't buy that one 2) it wasn't like Jesus had a home to bring her into in the first place. So perhaps there is an element of providing for his mother's needs - but what of the odd, but not uncommon, phrase he uses - "woman"?

John's gospel though is deliberately constructed. There is something profoundly theological about what John chooses to include and where. So when we back up a bit and look at the concept, I think a different story emerges here. One where Mary is not so much the favoured recipient of Jesus' attention, but she represents a moment in the kenosis, of self-emptying, of our Lord. Let's back up the the episode with Pilate.

Jesus' interaction with Pilate has some fascinating moments. The one John draws out attention to is where Jesus informs Pilate who really is in control. Jesus' silence is met in verse 10 with ""Do you refuse to speak to me?" Pilate said. "Don't you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?"" To which Jesus replies, "You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above." (v.11a) John makes it clear that Jesus is in control here. He is submitting his will to the Father, modelling obedience. And so it is not long after this that we find Jesus lifted up onto the cross (to borrow the language of the Exaltation of the Cross).

On the cross Jesus is first stripped of the last of his material goods. His garments are gambled over by the soldiers. If Jesus is freely going to the cross, then he is effectively allowing the soldiers to take all of his possessions.

Immediately after, in John's careful narrative, we have the passage that is our concern. Already having given up all material possessions, Jesus now lays down his relationships. He gives up being a son of Mary. So great is his obedience to the Father, he is not willing to let love of mother, father, sister or even brother prevent him from obeying God's will.

This continues, because the next thing Jesus lays down is his self-control. He cries out his thirst and is given vinegar. Here is the one who freely offer himself, completely submitting his life, relationships and self-will to the Father. It is after these three things are released that Jesus says those ominous words: "It is finished." He bows his head and gives up his spirit.

I was reflecting on this and it hit me afresh just how costly the cross is. It is easy to gloss over this and rush right to the resurrection - but the cross is definitely worth pondering. What are we willing to lay down in our pursuit of the will of the Father? The more I reflect on the cross, the more I realize that Jesus' challenge for us to take up our crosses is not about being willing to be made fun of because we read our bibles in public or actually want to sing love songs to our Savior. No the gospel is costly. It is not what others will take from you - in terms of social standing or respect - but in terms of what you will give your life for.

The interesting conclusion of the reading from Hebrews (The reading was Hebrews 5:7-9) is that Jesus became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him. I'll leave you to work out the implications of that, but I wonder if we often take that all too lightly. I hope you will join me in meditating on the costly cross and that we will take it up to follow Christ into this world to do the will of the Father.

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