It’s a vision that will forever be etched into memory, the unique gift of perspective, full immersion into a story read hundreds of times but never truly traveled with the heart … until now.
This is my son.
On a recent Sunday evening, I embarked on a walk beside him as he brought to life the mysteries I have prayed upon since I was a young child, long before I was able to understand the magnitude and impact of the sacrifice held within.
He played the part well, remarkably and surprisingly so. This is not a child with a flair for the dramatic. In retrospect however, it’s clear to me that theatrical skill was not what was needed, but rather a heart that is simple and true with a sincere desire to feel — in whatever way is humanly possible — some level of the pain this misunderstood soul felt all those years ago.
When he was first brought out before the crowd, flanked on either side by cold and merciless Roman soldiers, I was taken aback by the depth with which my child had assumed the character he was asked to play. Barefoot and dressed in a linen cloth, He looked sincerely despondent yet strong. His eyes were cast to the ground, His head held low, but his will clear and unbroken. Several feet in front of him stood Hs mother, Blessed Mary, with Mary Magdalene on one side and the Apostle John on the other, their love and friendship providing as much stability and strength as they could offer in the midst of their own pain.
It was for her I cried, for a time our spirits strangely connected in the unbreakable love of a mother for her child. Questions flooded my mind as I watched the scene play out before me. For whom was the cross hardest to bear? For a mother to see her child unjustly accused, mocked, beaten, suffering — how did she bear it?
This image is hauntingly beautiful and intricately telling in its simplicity. Her son had fallen to the ground under the weight of all He had endured, and Mary instinctively fell to her knees and lurched forward toward Him. I look at her outstretched hand and find her pain palpable, her desire to touch her son again overwhelming. I think of all her hands have done for this child of hers: for the comfort, protection, and stability they offered as He grew; for the countless times she clasped them together in prayer seeking respite from the fear that had overshadowed His life since the angel first announced Jis miraculous presence within her. The work of a mother’s hands reveals so much about her heart and the love and commitment it holds for the child for whom she toils and prays.
Jesus’ suffering continues without the slightest moment of escape from the pain and agony that envelopes Him. When He falls for the third time, the soldiers continue to beat Him as he lay helpless on the ground. He is then stripped of His clothes and nailed to the cross He had carried, the cross on which He would breathe His last.
As the end drew near, his mother knelt before her son, refusing to break under the weight of her sorrow; offering her child the very last of her courage, she locked eyes with Him and provided what comfort she could. When He was finally taken down from the cross, Mary was there with arms outstretched, ready to cradle her son once again.
What did she see when she looked at Him? What was she feeling when she held her son’s lifeless body in her arms? Was the magnitude of her suffering somehow assuaged by the knowledge that His pain had come to an end? Did she trust that she would see Him again?
Moments after taking him down from the cross, one of the Roman soldiers carried my son’s limp body into the church and placed him on the altar. There was so much to process in this experience, but what struck me most of all in this moment was the number of times I have visualized this very scene: the laying of my children at the feet of Jesus, placing my deepest fears on the altar where my son now lay.
I cried with gratitude that what played out before me was not lost in the world of make-believe, that when this story was lived out all those years ago, my children gained eternal life — freedom from death — and a true friend to share the weight of whatever cross they may be asked to carry.
I am in awe of Mary’s courage and her refusal to let her fears blemish the beauty found in her surrender. She is the example I strive to emulate, her fragile heart one I want to do my part in protecting, by loving her son and living the joy of His great sacrifice.
There are some, perhaps many, who will look at these pictures and see only what is on the surface, those who may even be offended in the re-enactment of such a brutal story. If we take the time to look at these pictures through the lens of the heart of Mary however, we will find redemption, freedom, hope and even joy as we proclaim,
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
Copyright 2019 Nicole Johnson