Standing Near the Cross                       

John 19:25

Dr. Chris White  Mother’s Day 2014      

     Mary is the more obvious personality of the Bible for Mother’s Day. Her stories draw us to the best-case scenario for motherhood: God’s work in bringing a child to her; a child excelling; an adult enjoying popularity and acclaim; a mother’s intervention for miracle in Cana; and, above all, a clear connection between faith and mothering. As long as you stay in Nazareth and Bethlehem, the story is manageable. But the story doesn’t stay in Nazareth and Bethlehem. Mary’s story also calls for her to be a mom in Jerusalem, or at least on the outskirts, in a place called Golgotha. And it is there that a mother’s story gets complicated.

     Read with me John 19:23-25: When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. The garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. “Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.” This happened so that Scripture might be fulfilled which said, “They divided my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.” Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 

     The story of Mary as mother of Jesus includes the cross of Jesus. Were we to step out of a time machine and witness the suffering of a crucifixion, we would likely feel sympathy for the worst criminal on a cross. We would hardly understand the casual business of the soldiers at the feet of Jesus. Imagine then the emotions of Mary standing near her son—her innocent son—as he dies a slow death on the cross. This is a confusing picture. She is a long way from the first message in Nazareth from an angel: Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you…Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God (Lk 1:28, 30). When we hear the word favor we expect, well, favor. There were seasons when the popularity of Jesus very well made her feel favored, but now this. There was no inked contract with God, but Mary would at least expect that God’s favor protected her from unfavorable outcomes like the crucifixion of her son. She did not anticipate the rejection of her son. For Mary, mothering included a cross, and a cross is a confusing intersection of your expectation of God’s care for your child and the difficult, gritty circumstances that beset your child. 

     If you are a mother, you are probably drawn to Mary. You probably know something about the confusing intersection of your expectation of God’s care for a child and the difficult, gritty circumstances that beset your child. You know something about your child being left out, warming the bench, missing the cut, or sitting home alone without a good friend. *The daydream of a mother seeking favor for a child is more like the experience watched by nearly seven million people last week during the NFL draft. You know how that goes. Twenty and twenty-one year-old boys sit in suits with their mothers in New York City waiting for a professional football team to draft them. It is then their turn to take the stage and meet the commissioner. But before they meet the commissioner they hug a crying mother who FINALLY gets to see the fruit of her hard work. No few of these young men were raised by single mothers, and the NFL draft is the answered prayer of a thousand nights of a worrying mother. Those are the moments moms hope to see. Moms love to stand near stages and winner’s circles, and with good reason. And few things make a mom feel more affirmed than the world’s affirmation of her child. 

     But the story of Mary near the cross of Jesus reminds us that the crosses of a mother’s child are the crosses of the mother. Jesus calls for us to take a up a cross and follow him, and that cross we take up is often a child and all of his or her struggles and suffering. Carrying that child and his troubles is an act of faith in Christ. His crosses become your crosses. It is also the case that mothers are no less in God’s will and no less faithful to a child when there is nothing left within her power but  to stand near their children’s crosses. There are high nights of stages and winner’s circles, but there are no few days of children not called for a second interview, losing a job, getting divorced, facing a major illness, or simply losing their way. Like Mary’s experience, a mother is often not invited by God to be the answer to a child’s suffering nor to suffer in the child’s place. Mary is no less a mother to Jesus when she cannot suffer in his place. She is no less a mother when she cannot stop what is happening to him. But she is fully a mother when she stands near a child through the disappointments and rejections. Like Mary, there are times when very little is afforded you except the opportunity to stand near.

     When that time comes, however, you should never feel that you’re without power. You hold the power to stand. And that is something. You hold the power to stand near. And that is something. You have the power to stand near and not give up ground, to prayerfully serve a child’s need in the service of God. That is something. In standing near you have the opportunity to express the great truth of Romans 8:28: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. As long as one person is standing near a child in her season of crosses, there is evidence that God is working for her good and moving forward with a purpose. She may not understand the whole, but by seeing you can understand the part. And most days our kids merely need the part.  

     


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