When Max was a little over a year old, he fell down the stairs. He’d only just learnt to walk, and we hadn’t got round to installing the stair gates yet. It was one of those split-second incidents, that happened in slow motion. Having very briefly nipped upstairs, leaving him safely in the living room (or so I thought), Max had managed to navigate his way, stealth-like, half-way up the stairs. I came down to find him turning around and trying to walk down the stairs. Naturally, as he’d not yet learnt how to do it, he fell head over heels all the way down. With my heart in my mouth, I ran to him, scooped him up and checked him over. The loud howl coming immediately from his mouth let me know he was ok, but boy did he have a big bump on his head! Thankfully he was absolutely fine and was back trying to climb the stairs the very next day (but the gates were firmly on by that point!!). This was not the last time Max hurt himself. And each and every time my heart stops for second. He’s still at that age where mummy cuddles fix a lot of things, but soon, he will stop needing me as much. He’ll grow up. But I don’t think there will ever be a day when I won’t want to drop everything and run to him when he’s hurt.
I was pondering this a few weeks ago, when our wonderfully adventurous and independent child scraped his knee again, and I was reminded of a scene in The Passion of the Christ, where Mary sees Jesus fall under the weight of carrying the cross, and she has a flashback to when Jesus was small. In the memory, we see Jesus falling and Mary dropping whatever she was doing to run to him and soothe him and cradle him. It was all very slow-motion and dramatic. Whilst the Bible gives us very little about Jesus as a child, I’m almost certain that scene isn’t very far from the truth. Mary would have been the one to teach Jesus to walk and talk. The one who fed him, bathed him, clothed him. For a portion of his life, she would have been the one to comfort him, to pick him up when he fell, to soothe his cuts and bruises. Mary was his mother.
But then, just as suddenly as that flashback started, we are right back to the scene in hand, where Jesus, who has been flogged to within an inch of his life, is being forced to carry his cross through the streets to its final resting place, where he will be crucified. And Mary is forced to watch on. She can’t run to him, or help him, or soothe him. She has to let him carry on. Because she knows who he is and what he must do. And I cannot imagine the incredible pain she must have felt, watching her child go through such suffering. Mary was his mother.
Then Mary became more than just his mother, she became Jesus’ follower. She knew what Jesus had to do. Although she couldn’t take care of him, she never left his side. She recognised that it wasn’t about her, or her role as mother, but that it was about God’s plan to save humanity. It was about a love greater than a mother’s love. It was about the greatest love of all.
In the depths of her sorrow, Jesus made sure she would be looked after: John 19:26-27 When Jesus saw his mother standing there beside the disciple he loved, he said to her, “Dear woman, here is your son.” And he said to this disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from then on this disciple took her into his home. In the depths of our sorrow, God looks after us. Sometimes it may feel like we have been abandoned, but we are never alone. Jesus’s death and resurrection meant that we would never have to walk through life alone. We will always have access to a God who loves us, who wants to comfort us and soothe us.
Sometimes God doesn’t answer our prayers in the way we want him to, and life is really, really hard. He never promises us that our life will be all roses, sunshine, rainbows and cake. In John 16:33 we read “ I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows…”. However, he does promise us that we won’t be alone, as Deuteronomy 31:8 says “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”. We are loved beyond all reasonable doubt. We are loved unconditionally. Like a mother (or father!) loves their child unconditionally, so God’s love is infinitely more. Isaiah 53:10 is a wonderful reminder of that love: “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the Lord, who has compassion on you.”
For me, that image of Mary watching on as Jesus suffered beyond all imaginable pain, hits home harder today than it did before I became a parent. But for two reasons. Firstly, I’ve become aware of Mary’s sacrifice as a mother in the crucifixion story. I see her in a different light. The strength she has through her own suffering, of seeing her son be crucified, yet having to trust that this was what was supposed to happen. Strength to let go of the deep desire to rush forward to help Jesus, to save her son…so that he could save the world.
Secondly, it reminds me of how God looks upon us when we are struggling, when we are hurting. God is described as our Heavenly father, and he looks on us with such love and compassion and tenderness. He may not always “protect us” from the situations we face, and that is often really difficult to understand, but he is always there waiting with arms outstretched, to comfort us, to soothe us, to love us. Maybe we need to be more Mary – to let go, trust we are not walking our journey alone, and lean on the love of God.