Good Friday, the most solemn and sorrowful day for Christians, takes me back to when I was child of 9 or 10 years old at St. Rocco’s Church. It was between the hours of noon and 3 p.m. that silence, reverence and prayers were said in remembrance of the agony of Jesus.
People entered the church quietly, knelt to pray, sat to contemplate and keep watch with Mary, the Mother of Jesus. It was during those three hours the town almost came to a standstill and was filled with a quietness of adoration. Most businesses, banks, the post office, restaurants and factories closed to allow devotees to visit a church.
Upon entering St. Rocco’s Church, parishioners saw a large cross with a crucified Jesus in the sanctuary. Beside him stood a statue of his sorrowful mother, Mary. It was a realistic and heart-wrenching scene. Stationed in front of the altar were the elder women of the church. At intervals, their prayers and mournful hymns pierced the silence.
My thoughts as a child sympathized with the feelings of Jesus as he watched the pain and sorrow on the face of his beloved mother. How terrible he must have felt to see her so distraught and helpless as she followed him to Calvary. Did he feel guilty for causing her such horrendous pain? It was not right for a child to cause a mother grief.
Much later in life, my thoughts are of Mary, who watched as her son was unjustly condemned to a horrific death. The pain and suffering he endured must have pierced her heart and soul. A mother feels the pain of her child deeper physically, mentally and emotionally.
I imagine how helpless and afraid she felt watching and being pushed along with the unruly crowd.
Below is how I imagine the events took place, from the perspective of Mary:
Sheltered by John, slowly, painfully walking, she watches her beloved son, bruised, beaten and bleeding, carrying a heavy wooden cross. She cannot get too close to him — the crowd is intense. The sound of shouting guards, whips cracking, people jeering and cursing must have created a fury within her. Silently, she screams, “My son, my son!”
The sound of the heavy cross is heard as Jesus falls to the ground. Mary hears the thud. As she makes her way through the crowd, Jesus is pulled to his feet by the guards. Her instinct is to rush to him, hold and comfort him, clean and kiss his wounds and make everything better as she did when he was a child. The lance of a soldier blocks her passage.
Jesus wipes the blood streaming down his face and looks into the eyes of his beloved mother. Their eyes meet and hold with an intensity of love that needs no words. Passing between them is the unconditional love and understanding of mother and child.
Mary watches as a guard pulls a burly man from the crowd and orders him to help Jesus carry the cross. Her thoughts scream out, “Take the cross from his shoulders and place it on mine.”
Step by step, Mary walks the torturous road to Calvary with Jesus, watching him grow weaker and weaker. “Is there no one who will help him?”
A young woman courageously steps out of the crowd. Stirred with compassion for the suffering Jesus, she bent down to wipe the blood and sweat from his face with her veil. Mary silently whispers, “Thank you,” as they continue on the journey.
Walking a short distance, again the thud of the falling cross is heard as Jesus falls a second time. He is physically exhausted. Mary cries inwardly, “How much more can He endure?” Once more Jesus is roughly lifted to his feet. Staggering beneath the weight of the cross, Jesus sees women weeping for him. With compassion, He speaks to them. “Weep not for me, but for your children.”
The guards, fearing Jesus would not reach Calvary alive, pick up the cross and place it on the strong shoulders of the stranger to continue the walk up the steep and rutted hill.
Did Mary arrive on Calvary to see her son stripped of his garments and laid upon the cross? Did Mary witness the stretching of his arms across the bar? Were the nails driven into his hands and feet while she watched?
John held her tightly as the cross was lifted and roughly placed in the ground. Her strength was waning. Taking a few steps to look at him, speak to him, touch him, Mary is cautioned to step back.
The spectacle is over. The crowd disperses. There is no need to stay and wait for the inevitable. Accompanied by John the Evangelist, Mary Magdalene and Mary Cleopa, they stand watch as He agonizes on the cross.
The time of death is drawing near. Jesus looks down at his beloved sorrowful mother with a special everlasting love. With an aching heart in a broken body, He utters, “Woman, behold thy son.” Turning to John, He then says, “John, behold thy mother.”
Soon after his death, Jesus is taken down from the cross and placed in the arms of his mother. She holds him tenderly, caressing his face, crying over his broken body.
She accompanies him to the tomb for burial. As the stone was slid to seal the tomb, the journey to Calvary ends.
It is the beginning.