Isaiah 52.13-end of 53; Psalm 22; Hebrews 10.16-25; John
18-end of 19
Almighty Father, look with mercy on this your family for
which our Lord Jesus Christ was content to be betrayed and given up
into the hands of sinners and to suffer death upon the cross; who
is alive and glorified with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now
and for ever. Amen.
"SHE gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in a piece
of cloth and laid him in a manger." "They took his tunic. . .
Standing near the cross of Jesus [was] his mother. . . When Jesus
saw his mother and the disciples whom he loved standing beside her,
he said to his mother, 'Woman, here is your son.'. . . There was a
new tomb and they laid him there."
In this year, when we are reading Luke's Gospel, and when the
Annunciation falls in Holy Week (and its observance is, therefore,
transferred to after Easter), Mary's presence at the cross recalls
the birth narratives that preface Luke's Gospel.
It is all one salvation story. Twice, Luke told us that Mary
treasured words and experiences from Jesus's childhood in her
heart, and surely some of those memories must have flooded back in
the morass of emotions as she stood at the cross. So much was
contradictory, the horror of the cross seemingly inverting, if not
undoing, the events of his birth.
Thus John Donne wrote (in "Upon the Annunciation and
Passion falling upon one day. 1608"): "Gabriel gives
Christ to her, he her to John"; her tender act of clothing Jesus
was callously reversed, and, once again, he was laid in something
At the foot of cross, Mary stood her ground, physically and
spiritually, only later being rejoined by the disciples who had
abandoned Jesus. It was at the cross that her true mettle, which
Gabriel's words had looked forward to, was revealed; that she had
found favour with God.
Simeon's disturbing words, spoken specifically to Mary when she
and Joseph presented the baby Jesus with such joy and hope in the
Temple - "This child is destined for the falling and rising of many
in Israel . . . and a sword will pierce your own soul, too" - had
probably troubled her over the years, as she pondered their
meaning; now, they were horribly fulfilled.
Mary, do you remember that
one day a sword would pierce your soul?
And in your darkest nightmare did
you dream that this would be the end?
The son you once held in your arms
is held now by a cross of wood;
the face you once gazed on in love
appears disfigured, crowned with thorns.
The shepherds now are far away
and in their place a shouting mob;
no silent, breathless, timeless awe,
no angel hosts with glorious songs,
no priceless gifts from eastern lands,
but anger, and the stench of death:
the only gift a borrowed tomb,
the only sound a cry of pain.
And is there glory in this
Can you, who sang Magnificat,
rejoiced in God who came to save,
still sing that song, see in this cross
amidst the shame, a Saviour come,
a sign of grace, a means of life?
Mary, once you waited, wept
bore the pain to bear your son;
now as you stand and wait and weep,
you bear not only pain but shame.
So, is there life amidst this death?
And can you glory in this cross;
mingle your tears with hope
because you know the paradox
that God, your Saviour, first must die?
Centuries later, Good Friday remains a day for unhurried
reflection on the Passion of our Lord - something that John Donne
did on horseback exactly 400 years ago. In "Good Friday, 1613.
Riding Westward", he contemplated the crucifixion, with its
earthquake and darkened sky:
Yet dare I almost be glad, I do not
That spectacle of too much weight for me.
Who sees Gods face, that is self-life, must die;
What a death were it then to see God die?
It made his own lieutenant Nature shrink,
It made His footstool crack, and the sun wink.
"That spectacle of too much weight for me." Good Friday offers
us the stern mercy of time to survey the wondrous cross, praying
that God will look with mercy on us, the family for whom our Lord
was content to suffer death.
This Good Friday, amid the horror of our Lord's suffering, as we
hear the continuing, daily litany of the world's suffering, Mary
exemplifies the epistle's exhortation: "Let us hold fast to the
confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is