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Holding On And Letting Go: A Reflection for Holy Week

I’ve been pondering how Mary would have been impacted by the crucifixion.

She is often overlooked in the faith traditions of which I’ve been a part. Yet as the mother of Jesus - the one who carried him in her womb for 9 months, the one who gave birth to him in a cave far from from home, the one who nurtured and loved him as a little boy - I can’t help but to be curious about her perspective.

What was she thinking when he was falsely accused & arrested like a dangerous criminal?

What was she feeling when he was beaten, whipped, and bloodied?

How did she carry on when he was forced to carry a heavy, wooden beam a half mile, uphill, to the execution site?

How did her heart not pound out of her chest when his hands and feet were pounded with thick, crude nails?

How did she stay quietly present when he became the target of gawking eyes and hostile, mocking voices?

How did she keep breathing as she saw her precious son in agonizing pain, slowly suffocating from a lack of oxygen? 

Cahleen Shrier, PhD, writes that crucifixion is possibly the most painful death ever invented by humankind. She says the English language derives the word “excruciating” from crucifixion, acknowledging it as a form of slow, painful suffering.

Not only was it a horrific way to die, but also certainly a traumatic way to watch someone lose their life - especially someone you love. 

I am in awe of how Mary was a faithful witness to Jesus’ darkest hours on this earth. 

She was there.

She didn’t run and hide from his anguish and pain.

She was present. 

To me this speaks of a deep and fierce love that is difficult to put into words. It points to an unswerving devotion that is perhaps otherworldly. And maybe God knew this was the type of mother Jesus needed to stand by him in his last hours. 

Michelangelo sculpted an image of Mary holding Jesus’ dead body after it was taken down from the cross. The sculpture is called La Pieta, which translates into English “compassion.”

It depicts a sorrowful Mary supporting her son, just as she had cradled him as a newborn. From conception to birth, from life to death, she was a faithful witness to her boy, and to the mystery of God’s plan of salvation for His people. 

She could not have understood what was happening, that is, not until the resurrection. She could have easily turned away, refused to trust, closed her heart to this difficult role and seemingly tragic turn of events. 

Don’t we often turn away from God - or other people- when things get difficult? When life gets too hard? When things don’t go the way we expect? 

Yet in this image you can see her left hand is open, palm turned up, as if surrendering her own will and yielding to God. She is holding on to the body of her son, and yet letting go, at the same time. 

Isn’t this what God is asking of us? To hold on to what we know is true and right and good, and to yield to Him all the things we don’t understand, don’t like, or wouldn’t choose? 

I believe we are invited to surrender, and in that place of relinquishment, we find hope that God is still somehow holding us up, still holding all things together.

He sustains us even in the midst of the unexplained trials, disappointments and tragedies. And He gives us hope for tomorrow, hope for a new day to dawn.

And with that comes the promise of

a resurrection.

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