The presence of Mary in the gospel accounts is highly significant, but suddenly after the crucifixion she seems to disappear, only to re-emerge very briefly in the Acts of the Apostles in the upper room, praying with the disciples as they await the Holy Spirit. Outside the scriptures, other writers have asserted strongly that the Risen Lord appears to his mother. Saint Ambrose, the fourth-century bishop of Milan, states: “Mary saw the Lord’s resurrection. She was the first who saw and believed.” In the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, the Fourth week begins with a meditation on the appearance of the Risen Christ to Mary. Surely it would have been impossible for the Risen Lord not to have appeared to his mother? Yet the gospels do not record this. There are some complex reasons behind this, but perhaps there is also something to help us as well.

Mary’s attitude in the gospels of Luke and John is particularly instructive here. In Luke we see a woman who is trying to make sense of the reality that she encounters:

  • But Mary was very confused about what the angel said. She wondered, “What does this mean?” (Luke 1:29)
  • Everyone was surprised when they heard what the shepherds told them. Mary continued to think about these things, trying to understand them. (Luke 2:18-19)
  • But they did not understand the meaning of what he said to them. Jesus went with them to Nazareth and obeyed them. His mother was still thinking about all these things. (Luke 2: 50-51)

The meaning of the phrase “thinking about these things” is that Mary was trying to work out what was happening to her. She is faced with some confusing and strange scenarios and she wants to understand what is happening and how she fits in. She does not claim to have all the answers, but she is prepared to think about and make sense of the reality around her. We are faced with the reality of the Church’s preaching that Christ has risen. How do we understand this in our own lives and what does it mean for the way we see our place in the Church’s preaching?

If we fast forward from the accounts of Jesus’ birth and infancy to his crucifixion, then we see a group of women in Luke’s gospel who watch the crucifixion. Was Mary in this group? Or was she devastated by what was happening to her son? Both reactions are possible, both are normal, both are human. Do we have the courage to contemplate the crucifixion or do we turn away, unable to bear it? Mary helps us in either case – a woman of courage, but also a mother.

Whatever we make of Mary’s presence or not at the Crucifixion, she was certainly with the disciples in the upper room:

The apostles were all together. They were constantly praying with the same purpose. Some women, Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers were there with the apostles. (Acts 1:14)

It is fairly clear that Mary has come to believe in the resurrection of her son, drawing on her capacity to work out the meaning and truth of the reality she encounters. She is also able to translate that discovery into engagement with the early Church – that same group of men and women she had known during her son’s ministry, but now transformed by faith. This challenges us to not only believe, but to put that belief into practice in prayer and in community. Presumably she shared not only the spiritual life of the group, but also the lifestyle that we read about:

All the believers stayed together and shared everything. They sold their land and the things they owned. Then they divided the money and gave it to those who needed it. (Acts 2: 44-45)

Our belief in the resurrection changes the way we live and interact with each other and with the world – and Mary is part of this process.

----------------------------------------------

On Good Friday in the account of the Passion we read from St John’s Gospel the poignant and iconic incident of the Mother of Jesus at the Foot of the Cross.

Jesus’ mother stood near his cross. Her sister was also standing there with Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. Jesus saw his mother. He also saw the follower he loved very much standing there. He said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the follower, “Here is your mother.” So after that, this follower took Jesus’ mother to live in his home. (John 19: 25-27)

This scene has given rise to production in the visual arts and in music, so moving and profound an image does it present. However, to appreciate it fully, we must connect it with the only other appearance of the Mother of Jesus in John’s gospel at the Wedding Feast at Cana. In that scene Jesus’ mother encourages him to begin his ministry and show his concern for the young couple who are about to see their banquet ruined. This scene is however, more than a lesson in how to cope with embarrassing social occasions. The key words are when Mary turns to the waiters and says. “Do whatever he tells you.” They are words that echo the fundamental relationship of the people of Israel and God himself – the obedience implied in the covenant that Moses announces.

At the foot of the Cross, Mary witnesses the climax of her son’s ministry and his concern now is for her directly. No longer does Jesus give his instructions to the waiters, but now he instructs the Beloved Disciple and his own mother. She must exercise her maternal role over the new community, symbolised by that disciple. He in turn must treat her as a mother with the same care and concern that Jesus showed. Both commands are quite challenging. Mary arrives at the scene of Jesus’ crucifixion accompanied by her sister, Mary the wife of Clopas and Mary Magdalene. She must now move from the role she has with her relatives and friends to a new role at the heart of the praying Church, as Luke describes it. In the midst of the horror and grief of the crucifixion how does she react? What are her feelings and reactions? One of the most striking aspects of this scene is her silence. At Cana she spoke, she asked, she told the waiters to listen to her son. Now she is silent faced with her dying son who now instructs her. But her silence is a fertile one. She clearly takes her son’s words to heart and obeys his command.

There are many ways we can draw on the figure of Mary and her role in the Easter season and I would suggest that she helps us move from a passive role in the Resurrection. We do contemplate the mystery of the Risen Lord and that is an important part of our prayer life. At the same time, Mary reminds us that the Resurrection challenges us in a number of ways. It tests the way we think about this mystery in our lives. It makes us think about our role in the Church. It asks us to change our lives. And Mary can be a model for all these demands.