Mary grieving the death of Jesus – the pieta – is has been a common subject in art for well over 1000 years. However, rarely do we wonder about what happened to Mary post resurrection (there is little to no information about this in Scripture) nor how her pain might have still affected even after her son had risen again. Posing some of these questions in most eloquent form for us, the first week of Easter, is Rev. Melissa Gonzalez – Pastor-Developer of Tapestry, a multicultural ministry outside of Minneapolis.
Francisco Herrera, Interim Editor
Three years ago I was asked to preach as one of seven pastors at a Tre Ore Good Friday service in Minneapolis. During three hours we each preached about one of the Seven Last Words, as Jesus’ last words on the cross are known. I chose “Mother, behold your son. Behold your mother.”
I recounted that day how I imagined Mary pondering Jesus’ birth, and how she felt as she watched her beloved oldest son grow up. I imagined it must be how we watch children grow up, ours and others. How they can be precocious like Jesus when his parents were upset he stayed behind at the temple without telling them. How Jesus scolded his mother for sticking her nose in when there was no good wine. And how she would have loved him just as he was.
Then when his ministry began to have an impact, she would have been proud, but then as Jesus became more renowned and popular. and he became the subject of intense fear and hatred, how she must have begun fearing for him. Even in her worst moments, though, she could have never imagined the cruelty of Jesus’ betrayal by a friend, the gross injustices in court, or the physical and spiritual pain that Jesus suffered that Mary would have felt to the very core of her being.
I preached about how Mary would have laid at the foot of the cross and felt so alone. And how Jesus saw his mother’s pain and suffering and made sure she was not alone, that her beloved community was there to care for her. And in that, I caught a glimpse of the importance of beloved community.
But as far as I can remember, I left the story there at that time, as in my mind I’m sure I was already reaching forward to the resurrection. I left Mary’s story there at the foot of the cross, probably with some vague understanding that since Jesus was raised from the dead, there Mary’s story ended.
But you see, I was missing something that I didn’t even realize was missing until this week, this holy week, this week just after what would have been my beloved older son Chris’s 24th birthday. This week that is approaching the two year Sadiversary of my own beloved son’s death. I had looked in that sermon at Mary’s BEFORE-life. I hadn’t even considered Mary’s AFTER-life.
My older son Chris was lost in the Mississippi River on April 25, 2017. His body was recovered May 4, 2017. (I’ve written extensively about my son’s death on my personal blog here). This was the dividing line between my own before and after. And in this after, I have been so immersed in my own grief that I have only briefly begun to think about Mary. Mary, mother of Jesus. Mary, bereaved mother.
Soon after Chris’s death, I was preaching about John 3. In my “after” I rarely write sermons, so while I prepare for them, I never know what will come out of my mouth. That day, I recited John 3:16 from memory:” For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…” and I gasped.Through my tears it became clearer to me what the love of God the Father was for his son and what He had lost. I still didn’t think about Mary.
Until this week. The last time we were together as a family was on Easter, April 16, 2017. Last year Easter Sunday fell on Chris’s birthday, April 1st. This year Easter falls in the in-between, the days of mourning coupled with the day that brings with it the promise of the Resurrection.
So this week I began to ponder Mary in her “after”-life. I imagine her cradled in John’s arms, not wanting to get out of bed to face another day. I imagine Mary walking dazedly through her mornings when time became relevant and irrelevant at the same time, where Jesus’ death would have felt to her like yesterday and forever-ago no matter how much time had passed. I wonder what the changes would have been within her that would have made her unrecognizable to herself and to those around her. I wonder if she could still pray to the Father to whom Jesus had cried out, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) or if she relied upon her beloved community to pray for her, just as I had to do for so long.
I wonder if her friends told her she should “get over it” and “move on” and “heal” and “be happy because her son was in a better place” and “everything happens for a reason” and “God had a plan.” And sure, God has plans, but not for death. God’s plans are for light and life and love and hope and peace. And “Mary, if you were really faithful and believed God’s promises, then you wouldn’t cry anymore. You would be happy because Jesus is with his Father in heaven.”
Would Mary ponder all of these things in her heart and hold her tongue?
And I wonder how Mary responded when people inevitably told her how strong and courageous she was. I wonder if she responded as I do. “No. The death of my oldest son has brought me to my knees. I lie prostrate at the foot of the cross.” I wonder if she felt in the deep marrows of her bones that the love of God and the support and prayers of her beloved community were the only things holding her together, the only things that allowed her to stand, the only things that allowed her to speak in loving memory of her son, the only things that brought her any kind of peace.
The last time we hear Mary mentioned by name in the Bible is sometime around the Ascension of Jesus into heaven and the Pentecost. We read that Mary was with the disciples and Jesus’ brothers constantly devoting herself to prayer. I wonder if she was there when her beloved son ascended into heaven. I like to think she was. I like to think God granted her that tender mercy.
And I like to think she was at the Pentecost. I like to think that the Holy Spirit rested on Mary as a tongue of fire so that this mother who certainly still grieved the death of her beloved son would be comforted with the Spirit and moved to share the good news of her son, of his birth and life and cruel death, but most importantly, the resurrection. Because it is in Jesus Christ’s resurrection that all who grieve death will find the promises of new life. New life that is only in Christ.
Blessed be the memory of Mary, this grieving mom who was given hope and who, I am sure, spoke her son’s name any time she could so that she might remember him. and we might remember him. May we, too, even in our grief, speak Jesus’ name so that all who grieve in this ravaged world might know that death does not have the last word.
On April 25, 2017, 22-year-old Chris Stanley was lost in the Mississippi River. He was planning to bike from Minneapolis to the Gulf of Mexico. In 2019, Melissa (Melnick) Gonzalez, 52-year-old mom, pastor, and non-biker took this 1500 mile journey by bike with the support of friends, family, and strangers. Melissa blogged, preached, and video-logged while training and completing the journey. She now speaks and preaches about: grief. cycling, and most importantly, about love, hope, light, and life.