A Mother's Heart (part 2)

African Madonna by Hennie Niemann Jnr
(part 1 here)

In his Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius of Loyola insisted that the first person the Risen Jesus appeared to was his mother. The story isn't told in Scripture, but there were probably lots of other post-Resurrection appearance that weren't recorded. So the imagination has free reign to show this early morning encounter between Jesus and Mary.

When I had done this meditation before, I was struck by the amazement and joy Mary must have felt.  This Easter I found myself identifying with Mary's emotional state before she realized who it was standing in front of her, and it seems the trauma and grief of the previous few days had to find someplace to go before joy could take root. Somehow she focuses on his hands. I suppose one's first instinct would be to reach out and touch - is this my son? is he alive? is he real and not a ghost? She grasps a hand, the familiar strong hand of a carpenter, assuring herself that this is indeed her son. Drawing it towards her, she sees the wound, the scar left by the nail.  It was real, the trial, the scourging, the crucifixion.  Tears flow into this hand, at once brutally scarred and miraculously whole.

As I continued to sit with this scene in my mind and heart, a conversation began to unfold. At first Mary pours out her experience of witnessing Jesus' suffering and death. Like no one else could have, she feels the blows and shared the humiliation. What agony to watch, helpless to intervene, as the horror continues. She holds her breath, waiting for him to resist, to fight back. And somewhere along the way she realizes that he will not resist.  She sees something in the way he looks at the crowd, the way he doesn't respond to the jeers, that tells her he is choosing this path.  He is not a passive victim, but is allowing this to happen in a movement of surrender and trust in the Father's plan.

Mary recognizes in her son's surrender a kind of family resemblance.  Jesus' yes - his laying down his life for his friends - is like Mary's yes writ large.  Maybe it's only in retrospect that the trembling yes she said to the angel, and all the other yeses along the way, make sense.  The risky "let it be" from a teenage girl was just the first step in a long journey.  I see her rehearsing the steps, those events that she treasured in her heart - the birth in a stable, strange foreign visitors, dreams, years living as a refuge, a reluctant return to Nazareth, the precocious boy debating with religious scholars and missing his ride home, the quiet years where he plied a trade, the set of his jaw as he announced he was leaving to pursue a call he could not avoid. Each requiring a surrender, a letting go, a renewed willingness to let her heart be "drawn entirely out of her body" and into her son's sacrifice.

Pondering this imagined conversation, I had my own moment of recognition. I was back watching my friend Trish live out her last few years under the shadow of ALS, with a faith and hope that was beautiful to witness. Even as the disease took away her ability to play guitar and sing, she continued to lead worship for our congregation, often sharing a word of encouragement or some lesson in faithfulness she was learning. The day she showed up in a wheelchair for the first time she reminded us that we all have broken places and disabilities; some of them just aren't visible. She was willing to be a reflection of that truth for all of us. It sounds simple, but it gave us a moving glimpse into her daily surrender both to the realities of the disease and to the hope she held onto to the end. I recognized in her yes a bigger and better version of some of the yeses I've offered over the years, and I treasure the memory as an invitation to that kind of open-hearted living. Maybe that's the greatest gift we can offer one another - flesh and blood examples of letting our hearts be drawn out by faith, hope and love.


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