I watched my son die today. My beautiful boy, beaten, battered and left to die. My heart broke.
I held my cloak close and I remembered the weight of him as a babe, like a boulder on my hip, wriggling to be free, to run and jump and climb. Those legs will run no more. Those limbs, I was so proud when they grew. I remember when he grew as tall as me, then taller even than Joseph. I remember watching him, stretched out as he ate, those long limbs seemed to go on forever. “I grew him,” I used to think with pride. Those limbs will not sprawl relaxed in my home ever again.
I watched his hands, the hands that used to pat me cheekily on the head when he’d grown tall. Those strong hands which laboured with wood, which helped me carry heavy loads, which lifted young children playfully. They are no longer strong. I saw them bang nails through the flesh, even felt that I heard the sound of bone shattering over the thump of the hammer, heard his ragged breath as they forced the cross upright. I wondered if I too might die.
But I watched. I am his mother and I would not leave him alone. When they tried to take me home, when they told me to shield my eyes, avert my gaze, I did not. For he was my son. I would never leave him alone, not at such an anguished hour of need.
Others watched. Some women were there, terrified and hanging back. Not me, I am his mother. I stood with John, where he could see me. What could they do to me that was worse than this?
Some watched who hated him. They mocked and spat and called abuse. It could not hurt him now, I thought, let them shout.
“He trusts in God,” they called, “Let God save him now,” and they laughed; even as he died they laughed.
Though even God deserted him by the end, and that was hardest to bear. He called out with a loud shout, asking why God had turned from him.
“My God,” he called in anguish, “why have you forsaken me?”
But I was there. I did not leave. I saw them crucify him, naked upon a cross. No mother wants to see her grown son naked, but still I did not look away. I was there at the beginning, I would stay with him until the end.
The soldiers took his clothes, for fabric is costly and even that of a criminal should not go to waste. Most they tore and shared between them but not his tunic. They cast lots for that, not wanting to spoil something precious. Yet my son was precious and they destroyed him.
It began last night. They woke me from my sleep and warned me there was trouble. He had been arrested, taken from a meal with his friends and questioned by the temple authorities. They feared the invaders, so he was then referred to a court of Godless law, a place that feared no God. They told me that he was scourged, beaten with whips that removed chunks of flesh as they struck. He was mocked and abused, then brought to this place.
I came, stumbling through streets full of people, full of noise and smells and fear and hatred. I came to this place, this Godforsaken hill beyond the city wall and I saw my son, my boy, diminished, shrunken somehow. I saw that what they had told me was true, smelt the repugnant stink of excrement mingle with the metallic stench of blood. I heard the shouts of abuse, the curses of the guards, the screams from the prisoners, the wails from friends. And him, like an oasis of calm amidst the turmoil, suffering but at peace.
And he saw me. Those dark eyes that as a baby had watched me intently when he fed. Those eyes that twinkled merrily when he teased me and became serious when he wanted to explain something important. Those eyes, red rimmed with exhaustion now, turned to me. Even hanging there, with parched mouth and dried lips, he spoke to me. His voice was hoarse, for he had refused the wine they offered, but I heard him well. A mother knows her child’s voice.
I stood with John and my son told me that this was to be my son now and he was to care for me as a mother. Even in his torment he cared for me, fulfilled his duty as my son. Still I would not leave.
Then it ended. The sky had turned as black as my world and he drew his last breath. It was finished. Those who had mocked became silent, some cried, some beat their breasts in despair. The blackness of the sky frightened them and many fled, wondering at what they had done.
Then I left, I let them lead me away. My soul was broken and my heart beat even though I bid it stop. My boy was gone, my firstborn, special baby, was no more. I carried that knowledge like a rock within me, I would have rather died in his place. How could I live, continue with my life knowing he is gone? There would be no more sunshine or laughter, nothing matters now. The core of me was gone. I could not even cry.
Afterwards, I could not rest and I heard strange stories. They said the soldiers pierced his side, to check there was no life in him. His blood had separated so they took him down, a solid corpse that had no life. A man came and took the body, they said they followed and knew where he lay, in a tomb that was guarded.
They told me of strange things, of the temple curtain torn in two, of dead men walking and boulders breaking open. I do not know. I only know my boy is gone. That is all that matters.
It should not have been like this. It was so recently that people praised his name, sang and danced before him, treated him like a king. It should not have ended like this.
And yet, I recall a song, it comes persistently to mind, it was sung often in the synagogue. It speaks of one forsaken by God in his time of need, scorned by many. He belonged to God from before he was born, then suffered at the hands of many. They sang of bones poured out like water, a heart of melted wax, that is how my boy would have felt. They sang of hands and feet pierced like his, and enemies gloating over him. They sang of lots being cast for clothing and of God’s ultimate victory. They sang of remembering him for ever, not just now but families of every nation, even those presently unborn. For he has done it. Is this my son’s song? Were the words written for him?
He spoke of his death often, he tried to warn me that he would die. But not like this, not before my own time has come. No mother should bury her child, it goes against what is natural and right. Though, he showed no fear, he knew what his end would be. And he told me there was more.
As I turn now to sleep, I wonder at his words. Will he truly return somehow and will I know? Has he finished what he was sent to do?
If Mary was a young teenager when she learned she was pregnant (which would fit with the age girls became betrothed in those days) then when Jesus died aged thirty-three, she would have been about forty-seven. How does a woman of that age cope with the things she was forced to witness and how much would she have understood at the time? I am about her age, I have sons, contemplating their dying is too horrible for words. I am sure she loved her boy as much as we love ours.
Crucifixion was a ghastly way to die. We learn in the Bible that Jesus, who never sinned, who never did anything wrong, died to save the world. What does that mean?
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However, many people were crucified, some probably unjustly accused. So is it the death that was important or was it that God became separate? I think that this is the key issue here – the part of Jesus that was God left him. That was more terrible than crucifixion. That is what each of us deserves and what we do not have to suffer if we choose to come to God.
If we want to know God, we can, even if that means changing our minds.
You may not believe in God, but God believes in you.
The song which Mary recalled in the story was Psalm 22. It has some striking similarities to the account of Jesus’ crucifixion. It was written about one thousand years before the event. (wow) It begins: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
It finishes: “…..future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn- for he has done it.”
Thank you for reading.
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