‘It is finished.’
‘I had never thought I would hear those words. I knew that as a young mother I would see my son grow into manhood, marry, I hoped, and have children that in my old age I could sit on my lap and so enjoy motherhood again. He had been everything to me. Neighbours spoke to me about how their baby was a blessing, a miracle, a gift from God, but I said nothing, because my baby really was. I remember it as though it was not so much yesterday but an instant ago. I seemed to have been touched by the breath of angel, stroked by angels wings as I felt a stirring deep inside me and I knew, as plainly as if words had been spoken, that I was pregnant and that this baby would be special.
It took me so much courage to speak to my parents. They loved me, they were pious members of the community and I knew that my words to them would be like a sword in their heart, that I was pregnant and unmarried. It was going to be such a scandal. Joseph was there in the wings of course, our marriage had been arranged but this could put an end to it all; after all, what are plans in the face of something like this?
But that first miracle was followed by many others as though the path had been set for me, the way smoothed by a divine hand, as though, well, as though it was meant to be. Joseph was a good man, I knew that, but I never realised just how good. He said that he understood, as though he’d been told himself. And my parents, they said that they trusted me and when they said that all I could do was fall into their arms and weep.
We all knew that the rest of the community wouldn’t be as easy to convince. There was a lot of talk around the well, a lot of talk in the shops. We were known by everyone and everyone knew Joseph and used his carpentry skills in so many ways. We couldn’t afford for his business to be affected by this, for his customers to go elsewhere. So, as it began to show, a plan was made. My mother’s relative lived in a village near Jerusalem. No one knew me there and my mother had been amazed to hear that she was pregnant. Everyone thought that she was too old, but this seems to be the age of miracles.
So I left Nazareth and went to stay with Elizabeth and her priest husband, Zechariah. He was not well when I got there. For some reason he was unable to speak but as soon as I met Elizabeth she was like an older sister to me. Our hearts leapt when I saw her, even the baby in my womb seem to leap with joy at her voice. We talked and laughed and sang together as we wove the clothes for my baby and I helped her with her final preparations, and Zechariah, silent, looked on.
The day came for me to go back. Just over the hill in Jerusalem there were rumours that the Romans were up to something. There was talk of a census being planned and by the time I got back to Nazareth it turned out to be true. In the town square, by the well we used, a message was read out that everyone had to return to their home town to be registered and, as I was betrothed to Joseph it meant I was on the move again. I said a hasty farewell to my beloved parents and left. I would never see them again.
Joseph was descended from King David – he had blue blood! So we had to go to Bethlehem – the House of Bread – what a lovely name for a town. I remembered hearing about Ruth gleaning in the barley fields there and I longed to see the place for myself. But we arrived late and it was very busy and I knew my baby was on the way. The only place we could find was to lodge in the space where the animals were, beneath an innkeeper’s house. But Joseph, as practical as ever, put fresh hay in the animal’s trough and, when the baby was born, we laid him there. Jesus.
I held him then, my baby, my child, my boy, my man; I hold him now.
All of that was thirty-three years ago. He never married; there were no grandchildren to bring me pleasure when Joseph died. I had no one when Jesus upped and left home and gathered a bunch of friends round him. I had no one, so I locked the door and travelled as well. I watched and listened and worried. I can’t say I always understood what was going on. I admit there were times I tried to stop him, to persuade him to come back with me. We still had the carpenters shop in Nazareth and he was good with his hands, good with the wood, good with the nails. But he couldn’t be persuaded and what could I do? Abandon him? Could a mother abandon the child of her womb? So I stayed and followed.
And now I am here’.
‘It is finished.’
‘I had never thought I would hear those words. They keep ringing in my ears. They took the ladder, the friends who had stayed with me, John especially, and they removed the nails that held his hands and feet to the wood and gently, carefully, as though they might break him again, they brought his body, his dead, broken body down. I held out my arms ‘Give him to me’ and they placed him in my arms. And I loved him, just as I had loved him as a baby, just as I had loved him as a man.
I had imagined so many things about my life and about his and everything he had done as a child I had treasured in my heart and I’ve often just spent time pondering, remembering. But, you know, in all the things I imagined, I never imagined this. Why would I? Does any mother imagine that they might hold the dead body of their child?
But it happens and I had seen it before and heard of it before. Words came back to me that I had heard in the Synagogue, words about Rachel weeping for her children and words about a time, not so long ago, when another nation was oppressing us. And there was a mother ….
The mother was especially admirable and worthy of honourable memory. Although she saw her seven sons perish within a single day, she bore it with good courage because of her hope in the Lord. She encouraged each of them in the language of their ancestors. Filled with a noble spirit, she reinforced her woman’s reasoning with a man’s courage, and said to them, ‘I do not know how you came into being in my womb. It was not I who gave you life and breath, nor I who set in order the elements within each of you. Therefore the Creator of the world, who shaped the beginning of humankind and devised the origin of all things, will in his mercy give life and breath back to you again’. (2 Maccabees 7.20-23a)
‘Those words she spoke in her grief, I will speak in mine. For we are both mother’s and have both lost what we love
‘The Creator of the world will in his mercy give life and breath back to you again’
‘I hold him and I weep and pray and in my heart I know that, despite his words, it is not finished’.
Hail Mary, full of grace.
Our Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb,
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death.