Monday, 5 March 2012

L.O.L. At The Foot Of The Cross

I write the above title hesitantly, because the cross of Christ is a sacred mystery to me and I would not treat it lightly. Please read on.
You may think that L.O.L. means “laughing out loud”, but in this case it refers to that phrase I have previously in this blog, single-handedly banned: “little old lady”. Seems I’m reconsidering. Maybe I want to reclaim that insult, as other minorities have with racial and ethnic slurs, and proudly wear it as a medal of honour. Here’s why.

For Christians this pre-Easter time called Lent is very special. It’s an opportunity to stop and take a breath… to look more deeply into our faith in Christ...and into look for new insights as to why we are Christians…to ask again what the person of Jesus really means for us and for our world. 
This year I haven’t followed the tradition of giving up any favourite treats or habits; instead I’ve been reading the biographies of Jesus to get the story straight from his contemporary friends and followers.
I recently read about Jesus’ arrest, torture, and execution in the four versions by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
It’s amazing that we can read the same story a hundred times and yet see something new. For the first time I realized that some of Jesus’ gutsiest followers were grandmothers – the so-called little old ladies! I hope I’m not being too self-focussed in this insight; you all know by now that I’m a grandmother. But then maybe our personal stage of life offers a legitimate perspective for the Spirit’s next word to us.

These bible histories tell us that when the religious leaders arrested Jesus, eventually turning him over to the Roman court, his buddies took off. One of his closest friends, the future apostle Peter, disgraced himself by telling a lie three times that night, swearing that he had never even met this Jesus guy who was on trial. 

It’s interesting that the male authors chose to record that many female disciples stayed at the horrifying scene of Christ’s death. Remember that theirs was a Middle-Eastern patriarchal culture, perhaps similar to the cultures we see today on TV news reports. One of the unusual things about their chosen rabbi, Jesus from Nazareth, was the way he would talk to women, teach women theology and defend women against other men. He treated women as men’s equals. 
These trustworthy male biographers identified a few of the women at the crucifixion as: 
Mary Magdalene; Mary the mother of James and Joses; the mother of Zebedee's sons; Jesus' mother Mary; his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas; and Salome. 

How old were these women? We know that Jesus’ mother had to be at least in her late 40’s since her firstborn was, at this point, 33 years old, likewise the other mothers named above, mothers of grown men. In those days few people lived past 50. As in parts of Africa and Asia today, most women in Jesus’ time were married as teenagers, became pregnant at a young age, and over their lifespan would normally have miscarried and birthed multiple children. They had arduous lives, hauling pots of water, hoeing garden plots and stacking firewood. By 40 their bodies would have been worn and tired. They would be considered old.

Obviously the young mothers wouldn’t be at the cross. No one would bring children along to a ghastly and dangerous setting where Roman soldiers (riot police) were beating convicts and then killing them, especially when one of the men hanging by his bleeding palms was a dear friend of the family. My startled realisation was that most of them must have been grandmothers. They were mothers of several adult children who surely had married young and had children of their own.

I can hardly bear to imagine what it would be like for women like me to watch their beloved Jesus suffering, imagining, say, my friend’s son, or my own best male friend, or my favourite young professor/pastor who had taught me about God’s great love for women – to watch his agony, and worst of all to hear him cry, “God, why have you deserted me?”
Luke tells us that these women were wailing with grief, but they didn’t run or hide. They companioned Jesus even as their hopes for him were extinguished and their hearts broken.
We know that a few days later these same women would gasp at the astonishing news of Jesus’ resurrection, but they didn’t know this when they wept.

When I think about the courage and faithfulness of these grandmothers, who followed Christ no matter what, I just hope to be so blessed as to join their sisterhood. If that’s what being a little old lady can mean, count me in.