Behold Your Son/Behold Your Mother

Note: this sermon was preached this morning at Custer Road UMC, continuing our sermon series for Lent: The Seven Words from the Cross.

Several years ago I presided at a funeral. I do not remember today whose funeral it was—maybe a parishioner or extended family of a church member. What I remember was a comment shared with me following the burial at the cemetery. A young man approached me, shook my hand, and said, “I could tell you really believed what you said.” This was not the usual, “Nice service,” or “Good job” preachers normally hear after a funeral. I was sort of taken aback. My response was pretty strange: “Well, yeah.” Not the most pastoral response ever. But my immediate reaction was: “Of course I believe this stuff. I am a Christian. I am a pastor. This is what I do. Well, yeah.”

For the Gospel of John, the issue of what we believe is central. In fact, of the 173 times the word believe appears in the Bible, 57 of them are found in John! Many of us can recite John 3:16 from memory: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” Jesus is profoundly interested in what we believe—and why—and he is constantly provoking and inviting others to believe in him: “This is the will of God: that you believe in the one he has sent.”

At the foot of the Cross, only in John, a scene of profound love occurs. We see two people who believed in Jesus: his mother Mary and one of his disciples. The two hold each other on a day of great pain and grief. Looking down at them, Jesus remembers each—the memories, the stories, the lives they shared together.

The Gospel of John says nothing about Jesus’ birth. The only reference we find to Mary aside from Jesus’ Cross is at a wedding in Cana of Galilee (John 2). When the staff runs out of wine, Jesus’ mother informs Jesus about the situation. Jesus’ response to his mother is questionable: “Woman, what is that to me? My hour has not yet come!” Some object to Jesus’ use of the term woman to refer to his mother. Would any of you say that to your own mother? You might—once! But he was not being ugly. “Woman” was a common way of addressing women in public in his day. Anyway, following Jesus’ comment to her, she says to the steward, “Do whatever he says.” In this comment I detect a couple of messages: Pride. This is my boy. He’ll take care of this. Faith. Jesus has power and ability and can make any situation right.

Cana is the only reference to Mary outside of the Cross—but not so for Luke. Luke tells us Mary’s response to the angel’s proclamation that she will give birth to the Messiah: “Here I am, the servant of the Lord. Let it be with me according to your word.” At his birth, Luke tells us shepherds visit the Christ child and leave proclaiming his glory. Luke says, Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” A week later the infant Jesus is presented in the Temple. An elderly man, Simeon, holds the child and says to Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel…and a sword will pierce your soul too.” When Jesus was 12 the Holy Family returned to Jerusalem for Passover. A day into their return journey home they noticed Jesus was not in the traveling party. Panicked, they find him in the Temple, teaching the religious leaders. When his parents expressed their concern, probably threatening to ground him or take away his mobile phone, the preteen Jesus says, “Where else would I be? Did you not know I must be in my Father’s house?” Upon their return to Nazareth Luke tells us Jesus was obedient to his parents, and Mary “treasured all these things in her heart.”

Now, standing at the foot of the Cross, his mother remembers these and other stories of her son. We share her grief. But she experiences more than just loss—she sees in his eyes the very heart of God. The Church teaches that Mary was Jesus’ first disciple. From the moment of his conception Mary shared in his life—not only as a mother but as a faithful, committed follower. She did not abandon him at the end. Those condemned to crucifixion were not hung 20 feet in the air or so as it is often depicted in art—it was more like seven feet above ground. So Mary is not quite eye level—more like waist level—and she is able to clearly hear Jesus’ words from the Cross, referring to the disciple standing with her: “Behold your son.”

Who is this disciple? Well, he is unnamed in John, although most simply refer to him as “John.” We’ve only met him the night before, when Jesus shared a final meal with his disciples. Although he is unnamed we know a great deal about his relationship to Jesus. John tells us this disciple was seated right next to Jesus at the table, a place of great respect and honor. The disciple is referred to only as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Literally the Greek text says this guy sat at Jesus’ breast. The two enjoyed an intimacy Jesus shared with no one else. He learns that Jesus is faithful to his promise. Just the day before, Jesus said to all the disciples: “I will not leave you orphaned.” While the other disciples are absent from the Cross, this guy is right there, accepting the responsibility for caring for Jesus’ mother: “Behold your mother.”

By linking these two together, “Behold your son/Behold your mother” Jesus creates a bond of intimacy, trust, and mutual affection. The only thing these two share in common is their love for, their belief in Jesus. He is their Lord, their Christ, their Savior. Their faith is obvious to us—they are present to the end. Their relationship to each other—and to Jesus—marks the very best definition we have for church. A community of like-minded folk who love and care for one another as a result of their relationships to each other and the one they affirm as Lord and Savior.

Following Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Gospel of John says,” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” We are invited to accept Jesus’ great love for us and become his disciples. To put it another way, from his Cross, looking upon each of us with the same love and compassion he had for Mary and the disciple, a love you and I could never imagine or understand, Jesus asks each of us: “Do you believe this?”

If you have not known this love before this morning, may you receive it right now. Jesus said, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” You are Jesus’ friend. He loves you—all of you—your brokenness, your imperfections, your mistakes. Acknowledge Jesus’ Lordship of your life and walk in the abundant life he promises for all who love him.

If you have already accepted Christ’s love for you and count yourself as his disciple, then live out your love in faith and obedience: “By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

If I had a time machine, there are many places in the past I would want to visit. One would be that cemetery in Duncanville a decade or so ago. When the guy says, “I can tell you really believe this,” I would have a more thoughtful, articulate response—more than, “Well, yeah.” Mary and the disciple share Jesus’ love for them, and that love creates a bond that can never be broken. In his love is a longing, a community, an authentic relationship that gives our lives meaning. St. Augustine said, “You have made us restless, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in you.” May each of our restless hearts find their rest in the love of Jesus Christ!

Behold your son.
Behold your daughter.
Behold your mother.
Behold your father.
Behold your sister.
Behold your brother.
Behold your neighbor.
Behold your friend.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.