for Tuesday, March 30, 2021 Grace Lutheran Church
Introduction | We are walking together through the Church season of Lent. Lent, which means “springtime or renewal,” began to be observed by the Body of Christ sometime during the 4th century. Lent spans forty days (not counting Sundays) modeled after Jesus’ time fasting in the wilderness before beginning his earthly ministry. Lent is a sacred time of remembrance, renewal, and spiritual preparation in our journey of faith with Jesus.
Over these next few weeks of Lent, we invite you to take up the practice of reading and reflecting on the women who first followed Jesus. We all know that the four gospels emphasize the twelve disciples whom Jesus called to “Come and see.” But several women also follow Jesus as he teaches, heals, offers miraculous signs, and purposefully makes his way towards first, offering himself on a Cross, but ultimately rising to a life beyond death.
Each week, we will look more closely at one of these women to better appreciate what they each saw in Jesus and how they learned to follow his lead with their lives. Each Tuesday, I’ll provide an overview and some brief reflection on the life of each of these women. On Thursday, a female member of our staff will offer their thoughts. Each Saturday, I will provide a Lectio Divina prayer exercise so that we can reflect more deeply in the Spirit in terms of each week’s devotional theme and focus.
Reflection | As we enter into Holy Week, making our way from Jesus’ Palm Sunday procession to the Upper Room to Gethsemane and Golgatha, and, ultimately to the empty tomb, we turn our attention once again to Mary, the mother of Jesus. If you remember, we began this devotional series by reflecting on Mary, considering, in particular, several New Testament passages in which she features prominently.
To refresh our memories, we discussed the passage of Luke 2:41-52 which finds Mary and Joseph anxiously searching for a young Jesus in Jerusalem upon realizing that he was not with them as they journeyed home. Finding Jesus in the Temple courts, Mary is frustrated and confused–“Son, why have you treated us like this?”–but Jesus replies, “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”
In considering this story, Pastor Chris reminded us that Mary, unlike us, does not have the advantage of hindsight–she does not have a full understanding of what Jesus’ life and ministry will entail, what they will lead to. And in the face of such confusion, Mary adopts a posture of reflection and learning. As she did following her son’s birth, Mary treasures and ponders this experience in her heart. She recognizes that God is moving in a way she does not yet comprehend and leans into faith anyway.
We see this posture of faith at work in the second passage we considered previously, John 2:1-11, the wedding at Cana. Here, Mary seeks out Jesus, urging him to intervene on behalf of those hosting the festivities. Jesus pushes back at her request–“My hour has not yet come,” he tells her. Mary responds not by arguing with Jesus, or by appealing to her position as his mother; nor does she write Jesus off as a dead-end and seek to find a solution on her own. Instead, Mary tells the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them. In other words, Mary accepts that Jesus’ response in this situation may not be what she envisioned, yet she demonstrates full faith that He will act. Believing without seeing, faith that passes understanding–this is Mary’s posture as a disciple.
You may have noticed that our scripture passages for this week are far less detailed. Four short verses–two in John and two in Acts–are all we have to tell us of Mary’s role in Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension.
There is a kind of mirror to the Luke 2 passage in John 19:26-27. As in Luke 2:41-52, Jesus and Mary are once again in Jerusalem at the time of the Passover. But while Mary was confused to find her child sitting in the Temple courts all those years ago, we have to imagine that she is struggling all the more to make sense of the sight of Jesus hung up on a cross.
Think about where this week began. While we are not specifically told by the Gospel writers that Mary was with Jesus and his disciples on Palm Sunday, the context of the story makes this a reasonable assumption. Luke 2:41 tells us that Mary made the journey to Jerusalem each year for the festival of Passover as was customary. It seems likely that Mary, as Jesus’ mother and disciple, would embark on this trip alongside her son and His followers. One can imagine that as the people called out “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the king of Israel!” as Jesus made his way to the city Mary might have been thinking back to the words the angel spoke to her all those years prior–“He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
Now, as we reach John 19:26-27, Jesus has been arrested and beaten. He is being crucified and is proclaimed a king, not by angels or worshipful crowds, but by a crown fashioned out of thorns and a notice announcing His supposed crime–“Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”
The sorrow and bewilderment Mary felt in this moment must have been immense. Like any parent, she surely grieved and lamented the suffering of her child. Like all the other disciples, she must have also been shaken at the fate befalling the Messiah. The Messiah was meant to restore the kingdom to Israel–”his kingdom will never end.” From a human perspective, this is not how things ought to go.
John tells us that, in the midst of his agony, when Jesus saw His mother standing there he made a point to ensure that she would be provided for after his death. Directing her to John (“the disciple whom He loved”), Jesus tells her, “Woman, here is your son.” Verse 27 tells us from that day Mary was taken into John’s home, indicating that he followed Jesus’ words here and cared for her. Notably, John records no reply from Mary in this moment. She does not argue or plead for Jesus to save himself from this fate. Mary, who saw shepherds and wise men kneel before her baby, who found this child conversing capably with the most learned of men, who has pondered all these things in her heart, does not seek to understand the unimaginable. Rather, in the midst of her grief and uncertainty, Mary leans into her faith.
Submitting to the instruction of her Savior, Mary accepts John as a surrogate son just as he accepts her as a surrogate mother and goes into his house from that day. Mary remains at the foot of the cross, devoted to Jesus even in this darkest of days, and continues to trust that the Father is at work, even if she cannot see how.
Fast forward to Acts 1:13-14. After the darkness of His death and the joyous miracle of His resurrection, Jesus has now ascended. Just before rising us to heaven, Jesus tells his disciples not to leave Jerusalem–“wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” And so, after all the excitement and confusion of recent events, the emotional rollercoaster from crucifixion to resurrection, the disciples including Mary proceed once again from the Mount of Olives back into the city and to the Upper Room to wait. We are told that they spent this time joining together in prayer.
While the news that Jesus had risen was wondrous and astonishing, the disciples still have a lot of unanswered questions. What comes next? How long are they to wait for the Holy Spirit? When will the kingdom be restored to Israel? There is much about the future that remains uncertain, and so Mary and the disciples turn to the Lord for guidance. As Pastor Chris put it last time, “Mary as a disciple of Jesus learned to live in the present moment rather than to fear an unknown future. She exercised a faith based not on conditions for Jesus but expressed with an openness to any future in Christ.”
As we reflect on Mary again this week, we see the continuation and maturation of this kind of faith. Throughout her life, Mary embodied what it looks like to fully rely on God–not only for the small things but for the biggest. From Mary’s example, we are reminded of the awesomeness and faithfulness of Jesus–because through all of her questions and uncertainties, He never let her down.
Consider & Discuss | What questions or fears do you have for the future? Have you brought them to Jesus? Do you live more in the present moment or in the future, worrying about the unknown? How can you balance both with the truth of what Jesus has done and continues to do in your life?
Ponder and treasure the things that Jesus has done in your life by making a list of when he has moved in ways you did not expect but still were best.
Prayer Focus | Gracious God, you are ever-faithful. Help me to place my trust fully in you rather than my own will. Continue to lead me to a posture of listening and following. In the midst of darkness and uncertainty, comfort me as you comforted and cared for Mary, and orient me to keep my eyes fixed on you. Amen.
Come, Lord Jesus, come!