Friday, 18 April 2014

It's going to be alright: Mary's story

Someone told me that they had come for him.

You know how people love to pass on bad news? Someone rushed to my lodgings to tell me the worst news there could be, and close behind them my daughters pushed past to kneel in front of me. They would have been more gentle with their choice of words but the news would have been the same.

They had him and they meant to kill him.

I have no words to describe the agony of that moment. I know that I have no right to speak of agony having witnessed what they did to my beautiful boy, but I was torn apart right then. There was a stillness in the room as time stopped and my heart began to bleed. I couldn't take a breath. 

It was over. 

I had never understood my boy Jesus. To be honest I longed for him to live a quiet life, to take over the business, to stay with us and find a nice girl to marry and bring me my first grandchildren as befits my eldest son, but I always knew that it wouldn't happen like that. That there would be no easy life, no perfecting the carpentry skills that his father taught him. Joseph always said he was a good woodworker - had a feel for the wood in his hands - and with practice he could be great, but Jesus always smiled said nothing. He knew that his hands were made for something other than sanding wood. 

As he grew up I knew that he was not like the other children, even though in many ways he was just the same. He had a sense of fun, a ready wit, a boy's curiosity. He had something about him... he was such a good boy. No pushover, don't get me wrong, he was no goody-goody. I used to say that he was stubborn, but Joseph always laughed at my exasperation and told me that it was determination. The other children looked up to him. They deferred to him; he had presence, even as a small boy. And as he grew up and Joseph took him to the temple, we were soon in awe of his understanding. It was as if he were from another world.  Ha. 

I knew. I think I always knew. I knew that day at the wedding when he did the thing with the wine; I knew when I heard reports of amazing things that he was doing. I knew he was born for something greater than staying at home with his mother. If only.

As I wept and rocked back and forth that awful night and wished for a husband to hold me, and a strong carpenter son to walk through the door to tell me that it would be alright, just as he always had - that's when it came back to me.

Thirty three years ago. 

I was in a room not dissimilar to this one, and I was sleepy. 

'Don't be afraid, Mary. You're going to have a baby, and you'll call him Jesus. He will be great - he will be the Most High - his kingdom will never end.'

That's what the angel said to me. Have you ever had an angel speak to you? I remember the turmoil in my head that night, and then the strange, unnatural calm that came over me. It would be alright. I've looked for that same calm many times since then but it doesn't come from inside me. No, it comes from God. When I was with my eldest son I usually felt calm; he had that effect on people. I saw it over and over again as he was growing up. 

These last few years it's been different, somehow. He still inspired, still comforted, still reassured, but I saw a few people narrow their eyes when he talked to them; some people didn't get it. They didn't open their minds to his message. And this is what got him into such trouble. His determination - that stubbornness - to get the message across made him his enemies. He spoke out more and more. Yes, he did his wonderful things, he healed people, he taught people, but he challenged them too. He didn't pull his punches, and some people don't like to be told.

But I digress. There was something else. Quite apart from the circumstances around his conception and cousin Elizabeth's response, apart from the angels and the shepherds and the wise men, as if those things weren't enough!

Something else. 

Back from the early days when I still didn't know what being a mother was all about. I was so, so tired that day that I could barely put one foot in front of the other but it was time to take him to the temple for purification, and so we did. Joseph was so proud. You should have seen his face; and when I think how hard it must have been for him... he was the proud daddy of that baby boy that day, let there be no mistake. He was a good man, my Joseph. I miss him so much. 

So - at the temple. We presented Jesus and they all crowded round. An old man called Simeon came up to me. He looked at me with urgency in his eyes and tears on his cheeks and he told me that my baby was special. He would save people. He said that he could die in peace now because he had seen the Holy One of Israel.

Joseph and I wondered at it. Simeon gazed at Jesus for a long time. I wasn't sure what to do as he was due another feed and I really didn't want him to make a scene in the temple. I should have known better. There was nowhere that he was more content than at the temple. Before Simeon turned to go, he put a hand on my arm and spoke in a low voice. His eyes filled with something I didn't recognise, but I now know it to be pity. 

He said, 'A sword will pierce your heart.'

I told Joseph about it when we got home and he didn't get it either. He dismissed it as just something else that we didn't understand about our baby son. He put his arm around me and told me 'It will be alright,' and my heart settled. I believed him. God has had his hand on this boy's life since the beginning. Why would it not turn out alright? Great things were in store.

That day, when they told me that he'd been taken, the old man's words came back to me. It's exactly what happened. I sat there, my daughters' faces buried in my skirts, and I wailed as if I had been stabbed in the heart. I thought I might die, it hurt so much. 

The thing is, I have had to be strong. From the day that I found out I was pregnant, life has had moments where I've needed to be strong above anything else, and this was one of those moments. I was no use to anyone if I crumbled and refused to get up off the floor. I brought my beloved son into the world and I nursed him, and I taught him everything I knew, and then listened as he taught me.

I would not fail him.

I cannot talk about the next hours. I saw it all. I saw him endure more than a man can endure and I must confess that I shook my fist at God as I watched my eldest son, my perfect boy, suffer so completely. They did unspeakable things to him and they left him on that hillside to die. I saw it all. My throat was hoarse from sobbing and my eyes ran out of tears and became so dry and sore from the dust and...from seeing things that no mother should have to see. 

My boy. My beautiful son. He knew I was there, you know; he spoke to me as I leaned on John and watched him bleed. I take some comfort that he knew I was there. I didn't run away as some did; I didn't fear the Romans. What could they do to me that they hadn't already done? They took my firstborn son and they killed him. They broke my heart.

I watched that kind man Joseph take his body down and I kissed his bloody forehead as they wrapped him in his grave-clothes. Even in death he was not diminished, you know. He was still so beautiful to me. They couldn't hurt him any more. I took the thorns from his head and I smoothed his hair as I used to when he was small. They had to pull me away as they laid him in the tomb. I would have stayed there with him. They could have buried me too.

They took me home and the girls sat with me late into the night. 

I have nothing more to say, because you know what happened on Sunday. You know that this wasn't the end, even though it seemed like it. 

I don't know what the eleven did that night but I didn't see them. They would have known that I'd have words to say to them - where were they when my boy needed them? They stayed away from me. I imagine they hid, and I suppose I don't really blame them. Who knew if the soldiers would come for them too?

But I sat and I wept some more, and I berated God who had asked me to bring his child into the world in the first place. I wanted him to take the pain away. To bring back my son. To make it alright. But surely nothing would ever be right again.

I didn't move all night and all day Saturday. The girls brought me something to eat, but there was no way that I could feel hunger. I prayed. I gave him all my tears and my pain and my pierced soul. I laid it down. I had nothing left.

And then things changed. Everything changed.

I knew before they came bursting through the door for the second time in three days. I knew before Mary took my hands in hers and stammered out her tale of joy and wonder.

It came to me in the night as I sat, lost in my pain. That strange, unworldly feeling of calm. God spoke words of peace once again; this time not to a naive young girl with an unplanned pregnancy - this time to a mother whose soul was torn apart from watching her perfect son crucified. He didn't leave me in my agony.

I knew that they would go to the tomb to take care of the body.

I knew that they wouldn't find him there.

It's all going to be alright. 

Picture credit: 1. Cenetaph003.jpg (sic) by LittleJack 
Courtesy of
Used with permission.

Reposted from not long ago, actually, but it seemed the right thing for Good Friday.


  1. Oh Helen, What a beautiful story so beautifully told. Thank you. Much love and every blessing to you and yours this Easter.

  2. Helen so beautiful. Such a talent. Have directed another talented friend to this who would love it. Hope that's OK x x

    1. Thanks, Claire! Of course. Thanks for reading and being so lovely. x


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