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Seán D. Sammon, FMS

23/03/2008: General House

Did you ever wonder what was in the heart and mind of Mary of Nazareth on that first Easter Sunday morning, her thoughts and feelings as the events of a very harrowing week in history finally came to fruition? Surely her role and perspective as the Mother of Jesus hold a lesson for each of us gathered here this evening. And not only a lesson, but also hopefully some suggestions about a course of action that we can take to implement the powerful message found in this feast.

To begin with, the Pascal pilgrimage of Jesus Christ redefined forever the meaning of membership within the community of disciples. And it did so by challenging those who made up the famously clannish world of ancient Palestine, as well as you and me today, to put aside conventional understandings about tribe and kin, to embraced men and women as equals, and to tear down the walls that others may have constructed between Gentile and Jew, rich and poor, sinner and saint. Furthermore, death, resurrection and ascension of the Lord should move us all to proclaim a new law alive in our hearts. Henceforth, loving and acting on behalf of the reign of God and not simply blood ties would be required to claim membership among the community of faith.

Early on in his public ministry we learn about the concern that Mary carried for her son and his safety. The evangelist Mark tells us that so deep was her worry that she and the brothers of Jesus set out to find and seize the Lord and to bring him home. Mary had good reason to be concerned. After all, her son was roaming throughout the countryside preaching and teaching and creating unrest. In so doing, he placed himself and his family at risk of retaliation on the part of the Jewish authorities and occupying Roman forces. And reprisal could be severe. The historian Josephus reminds us that during the uprising that followed Herod’s death 2000 Jewish men were crucified and their families sold into slavery.

On finding Jesus, Mary and those with her must have felt more than a bit put off. Informed of their presence outside the place where he was preaching, he looked at those who sat about him and visually and verbally embraced them as being more authentically the family of God than those who were his blood relations.

In time Jesus’ preaching of the Good News led to his arrest, trial and condemnation, and death. Though for centuries artists have set about to capture the inexpressible sadness of Mary at the foot of the cross, neither Mark, Matthew nor Luke mention of her presence there. John, though, places not only the mother of Jesus but also himself at Calvary and he does so for a reason: to mark the birth of a new family of faith founded on following Jesus and his gracious God. Once again Jesus is reinterpreting family in terms of discipleship. Clearly there is a link between the death of the Lord, the gift of the Spirit, and the foundation of the Christian community. Mutual love and equality among its members must mark the Church after Jesus is gone. In this regard Mary is our example: the first disciple and apostolic witness.

Mary, though, teaches us another important Easter lesson. With the death of Jesus, she joined forever that community of women throughout history who experience the unique suffering that comes with having outlived one’s child. In making this point tonight, I cannot help but think of the mother’s of Alex, Philippe, Gaspar, Servando, Moises, Chris, and so many others. When death has come about at the hands of violence, a distinct pain lingers for many years to come.

Crucifixion, a particularly cruel manner of killing, was reserved by the Romans for slaves and noncitizens. Jesus’ death in this manner forever linked Mary to those women who throughout history have seen the child they carried to term, bore, reared and taught, loved and cherished killed by state violence--be it in war, by execution, or in the indifference that so many of us show toward those in need. With the death of Jesus Mary joined the mothers and grandmothers of Argentina’s Plaza de Mayo who continue to demand that they be told about the fate of their loved ones who disappeared, she stands in solidarity with surviving mothers of Rwanda and Cambodia’s genocides, with those whose children die in civil war, are executed in the United States and elsewhere, who meet their end at the hand of torturers and those with little regard for human life.

If we wish to make a difference this Easter, let us join voices with Pope Paul VI who years ago cried out “war never again,” let us work against greed that causes injustice in our societies, hopelessness and despair that gives rise to crime. Yes, let us commit ourselves to stop killing other people’s children and pray that we may become, along with them, true disciples of the Lord, members of community of faith, the new family of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Happy Easter!

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