14 April 2017

"Woman, Behold Thy Son!" "Behold Thy Mother"

Aside from this Word of Jesus from the Cross, there is only one other time when the Blessed Virgin Mary is mentioned in the Gospel According to St. John — namely, at the familiar Wedding in Cana.  There, as you know, the Mother of Jesus requested that He supply the wine that was lacking for the feast.  Indeed, He did so, changing water into wine as the first Sign of His Glory.

But that was not yet His “Hour,” when His Glory would be fully manifested and all that He had come to do and accomplish for us and our salvation would be finished and fulfilled in His flesh.

Today, however, that Hour has come.  Behold the Glory of God in Christ the Crucified!

Again the Blessed Virgin Mary is there.  Once more, as before, St. John has not identified her by name, but only as “the Mother of Jesus.”  And Jesus addresses her in each case as “Woman.”

It might seem rude or impolite, or perhaps too casual and crass.  Or we might assume that it stems from the customs of a different time and culture than our own.  But our dear Lord Jesus Christ could hardly have used a more exalted word for His dear Mother than to call her “Woman.”

In doing so, He recalls that first promise of the Gospel — given to Adam and Eve in the Garden following their Fall into Sin.  You remember the story.  To the serpent, that old dragon, the devil or Satan, God declared: “I will put enmity between you and the Woman, between your seed and her Seed.  He shall crush your head, and you shall bruise His heel.”

Now, here on the Cross, the Seed of the Woman is doing what He has come to do.  He crushes the head of the serpent under His feet, at the cost of His life.  And there is “the Woman,” watching, beholding all the Words and promises of God fulfilled in the Cross and Passion of her Son.

For St. John to describe this holy, faithful Woman, not by name, but only as “the Mother of Jesus,” also indicates that she does not stand there at the foot of the Cross only for herself.  But — as also, for example, in St. John’s Book of the Revelation — St. Mary is here a living icon of the Church.

By the Word and Spirit of God she conceived and gave birth to the Son of God, our Savior, Jesus Christ; not by her own merits, but according to His mercies.  So also, by the Word and Spirit of God, the Church on earth gives birth to the children of God — who are the “sons of God” in Christ Jesus — because they die and rise with Him through Baptism into His Cross and Resurrection.

So it is from the Cross, from the depths of His Passion, that this same Lord, Jesus Christ, gives His own dear Mother to be the Mother of His disciple.  He gives the Church to care for His children, and He gives the Ministers of His Word to care for His holy Bride, the Church, in His Name.

This “disciple whom Jesus loved” is universally thought to be St. John himself, the Apostle and Evangelist.  Yet, just as he does not refer to St. Mary by name, neither does he refer to himself by name at any point in his Gospel.  He is always described as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”

St. John’s use of this description for himself is neither a pat on the back, nor a case of modesty, but rather an invitation for all the disciples of Jesus — for all of His Christians, including each of you — to recognize themselves in this description: “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”  And so you are!

Of the various places in the Gospel where this “disciple whom Jesus loved” is mentioned, there are a number of cases with particular significance.  He reclined at Jesus’ breast at the Lord’s Supper.  He witnessed the trial, the suffering and death of Jesus, as in this Word of the Gospel that we consider here.  And he witnessed both the empty tomb and the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ.

In each of these cases, you also are with Jesus.  In each of these cases, you also are His beloved disciple: In His Cross and Resurrection, and in His Body and Blood in the Holy Communion.

So also does your dear Lord Jesus Christ give you to His Church — who is your Mother in Him.

By the same token, St. John is not only a disciple of Jesus, like yourself; he is also one of the chosen eyewitnesses of the Cross and Resurrection.  He is one of the Apostles of the Lamb.

Therefore, not only is this disciple, St. John, given as a son to the Mother of Jesus, but she also — again representing the Church — is given to St. John.  For the Church on earth is cared for and provided for by way of the Apostolic Holy Ministry of the Gospel–Word and Sacraments.

This Apostolic Ministry by which the Church lives, derives from — and it draws all of its power and authority from — the Cross and Passion of Christ Jesus, which is the sacrifice of His Body and Blood as the Lamb of God for the sins of the world.  The Crucifixion of Christ Jesus is “the Hour” of His Glory, the point on which the entire Gospel hinges and depends, even to the end of time.

So it is from “this Hour” of the Cross that the “Woman,” “the Mother of Jesus,” and “the disciple whom Jesus loved” are given to each other as Church and Christian, as pastor and people of God.

Thus does St. Mary behold the Glory that she anticipated and glimpsed at the Wedding of Cana, when her Son, the Son of God, manifested the Glory of His Cross by changing water into wine.  Even as He would use the water of Holy Baptism to change poor, miserable sinners like you into His beloved disciples and the children of His God and Father; and even as He would change and give wine to be poured out for you and for the many as His holy and precious Blood.

So also was the word of St. Simeon to St. Mary fulfilled, that a sword would pierce her own heart and soul over her dear Son, Jesus, who is here given for the falling and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign to be spoken against.

That is the great irony and paradox of Christianity: The Glory of Christ, and His victory over sin, death, the devil, and hell; His forgiveness, life, and salvation, and even His rising from the dead — all derive from His Cross and Passion, from His death by crucifixion for the sins of the world.

Apart from faith in Christ, His Cross appears to be the very opposite of what it actually is.  Instead of divine Glory, it looks like nothing else but mortal humiliation.  Instead of victory, it sure looks like an absolute and utter defeat.  Instead of forgiveness and life, it seems to be no more nor less than the curse and judgment of death.  Instead of the rising, it appears to be nothing but the falling.

“But I, when I am lifted up,” says Jesus, “I will draw all people to Myself.”  I will call them by the Gospel; I will enlighten them with My gifts; and I will sanctify and keep them in the true faith unto life everlasting — “When I am lifted up” in death upon the Cross.

Therefore, set appearances aside.  Hear and heed what your Lord says.  From the Cross He gives life and health and strength and protection to His beloved Church by the Ministry of His Gospel.

From the Cross He makes disciples out of sinners from all the nations.  In doing so, He shares with them both His Cross and His Resurrection from the dead — through Holy Baptism in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  He grants them faith by His Word of forgiveness and life, and He entrusts them to the loving care of Holy Mother Church, the Mother of all His Christians.

As a member of His Church, as a disciple whom Jesus loves, by faith you see and confess that the Crucified One is the very Lamb of God, who takes away your sins and the sins of the whole world; who gives you that forgiveness — and with it, His life and salvation — by granting you to recline on His breast at His Holy Supper, to be fed by His holy Body and quenched by His precious Blood.

So then, “dear Woman, behold your sons,” the children of God in Christ Jesus.

And you, dear children, “behold your Mother,” the Church of God in Christ.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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