Now there stood by the Cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.
When the young Roman guard asked them to keep back from the area she noticed that he was little more than a boy. The thought occurred to her that he must feel vulnerable at such moments as this. Around them milled a crowd, among them friends and family of the condemned, some half crazed with grief. If the prisoner was political there was the possibility of a rescue attempt, especially in the early stages of the crucifixion process.
She had arrived in Bethany too late to meet him before he had left for the city with his followers. She felt a passing twinge of resentment but she put it aside. By this time she had become used to being second to the demands of what he regarded as his ministry. As she tried to get some rest she had heard the visitors coming and going in the house, but she knew she was being allowed to rest because there was no good news to tell her.
Very late at night they woke her to let her know that he had been taken. As the young man told her of the impending trial, she knew that he was deliberately refraining from telling her of the possibility of execution. To her own surprise she found herself comforting him. When he asked her what she wished to do when the time came she said calmly that she wished to go to wherever her son would be. Again she tried to get some sleep.
In the early morning she left with her sister and the young woman from Magdale whom she barely knew. As she walked the last few hundred yards towards the area where the crosses stood in the ground, they seemed to grow in height. When she was close enough to see features she forced herself to look. She was glad of an arm supporting her.
At first a wild hope grasped her that it was not her son at all. The body was revealed in total degradation and defilement. She found herself thinking that it was no worse than countless others had suffered. Like most people she had always avoided any acquaintance with the obscene process of crucifixion.
As the young Roman guard ordered them to keep their distance, they shuffled back some yards. She looked across the filthy ground between them and the crosses. It occurred to her that all her life she had been distanced from her son. Even when she and Joseph had taken him as child to the temple she had had to look across a barrier as the priest took the baby and later returned him. Almost always it was across barriers and walls and chasms and crowds that their relationship had been conducted and their elusive love communicated. Of one thing she was certain, that he had loved her. Even if they had not often spoken it, she knew it to be real and lasting.
Someone told them how long it had been since the execution had begun. It now looked as if the end was not far off. By now the front of the crowd had inched forward again. She was aware with mingled terror and joy that he had opened his eyes and seemed to have seen them. She could see his lips moving, trying to form some word. Careless now of any restraint she moved forward to try to catch the sound.
When the whispered croaking sank to silence she moved back. In that moment, by the whispered statement of her dying son, this young man who had joined them and now stood beside her, had now become her son and she his mother. This evidence of her own son’s concern for her, even in his extreme agony, was for her a mingling of pain and appreciation.
With the help of her sister and of the young woman from Magdala who had come with them, she began to move away. She never heard the terrible cry of desolation that took all but his last breath.
An hour or so later a Roman lance pierced his side. If she had seen it she might have recalled the old man Simeon tenderly returning her newborn son to her arms in the temple all those years ago. She might have remembered his looking at her intently as he spoke very quietly. “One day” he had said, “a sword will piece your heart”.
One day…To a new young mother it had sounded so far in the future, and anyweay she had had no idea what the old man meant.
As they came down the hill she would have fallen on the treacherous path, had not her sister and the young woman of Magdala supported her.