It’s late. She is surrounded in darkness, laying on her pallet begging sleep to come but unable to quiet the restlessness in her spirit. She’s unsure the reason but certain of the feeling: something evil is stirring.
As dawn breaks, a familiar face bursts through the door. It’s one of the men her son has been spending most of his time with. Of all the people in her son’s life, by far he is her favorite among them.
“Mary!” John shouts. Had it been any other night she would have been startled awake, but not today. Sleep never came. “It’s Jesus.”
Her heart sank.
They had been after him for months; following him everywhere and searching for any reason to condemn him. She saw the fear in John’s eyes and knew the time had arrived; the moment she had dreaded since Jesus was a teenager and she saw him move from boy to man.
Quickly, she gathers a few things and follows John under the light of the sleepy morning sky. Stunned and afraid of what she will see when she arrives, she whispers in prayer familiar words, “may it be as you have said.”
Before they can see the crowd, they hear them. Shouting and anger flood Mary’s ears but sit incoherent in her mind. She is deep in prayer, preparing her heart for whatever she is about to take in.
“Hear my prayer, O Lord; listen to my plea. Answer me because you are faithful and righteous.”
“I’m going inside to see what I can find out,” John whispers. His words bring her back to the reality before her. A man of status, John is able to come and go in places she would never be welcomed. The widowed wife of a carpenter, and a woman nonetheless, she has no option but to silently observe as the horror unfolds. He leaves her but promises to return. He has always been a man of his word.
Suddenly, Pilate appears at the top of the massive stone stairway. Angry banter is shared between the Roman governor and the mob before him. A man of power with a desperate need for approval, he is terrified of the mob before him. He knows the man beside him is innocent, but his fear of riot is stronger than his conviction to do what is right. In attempt to appease the crowd, he orders Jesus flogged.
Hot tears fill Mary’s eyes. She clenches her jaw and holds her breath. Silently, tears begin falling down her cheeks, framing her chin, and flowing quietly down her neck. The air is cool but sweat forms on the back of her neck. She is trying not to draw attention to herself.
She watches as her firstborn son’s wrists are chained to a vertical log. She glimpses the face of the man who will inflict horror on her son and sees the evil in his eyes. He shows no remorse. His arm swings back and with a crack that pierces her heart she sees the leather fly and the first hook of lead peel the flesh from her son’s back. As Jesus grimaces in pain and a cry leaves his lips, she remembers her young son tripping as he chased his brother, James, outside her dear friend Elizabeth’s home. His knee dripping with blood, she held him as she dabbed the wound with a cloth and hugged him in her lap. She longs to mend his wounds again.
Helpless. Broken. Devastated.
Her mother’s heart is attached to a lifeless log, begging to take his place. She watches as the flesh of her flesh is torn to shreds before a crowd who is cheering “MORE!” Hands clenched over her mouth she whispers, “Father, have you no mercy?!”
A hand touches her shoulder, but she is paralyzed. She feels nothing. John looks at her face and can hardly recognize the expression on the woman before him. In all the time he has known her, he has never seen such pain in her eyes.
Finally, the abuse comes to an end. While relief would be the expectation, doom is what fills her instead. She knows this is not the end.
“I am losing all hope; I am paralyzed with fear,” she begins.
John hears her, but is guiding their steps to where the crowd is gathering next. These are the only words she can muster.
The minutes feel like hours until Jesus appears again. As he is dragged before them, her heart begins to pound and heat fills her cheeks. She sees the brown blood drying on what’s left of his flesh as fresh, red blood drips from the thorn wounds on his forehead.
She gets lost in her thoughts, imagining herself running up the steps, taking them two at a time and falling at her son’s feet.
“I remember the days of old. I ponder all your great works and think about what you have done.”
The words pierce her ears and she is brought back to consciousness.
“I lift my hands to you in prayer. I thirst for you as parched land thirsts for rain.”
“Come quickly, Lord, and answer me, for my depression deepens. Don’t turn away from me or I will die.”
She watches as her son is led away. The crowd cheers in victory as their hunger for murder is being satisfied. Her tears no longer flow; she moves from devastation to paralytic shock. A grieving numbness has overcome her.
Within her heart, she reaches for the only sense of stability she knows. “Let me hear of your unfailing love each morning, for I am trusting you. Show me where to walk, for I give myself to you.”
Placing one foot in front of the other, the movement of her own body feels foreign. She never takes her eyes off her son. She watches him stumble and prays for any willing soul to ease his load, if only for a moment. Every step feels heavier for both of them.
“May your gracious Spirit lead me forward on firm footing…”
The journey to Golgotha feels like an eternity. But eternity is what is in the waiting.