The feast of the Annunciation of the Lord, March 25, is nine months before Christmas, December 25. It’s an old feast celebrating the moment the Word of God became flesh in the womb of Mary. There’s an early tradition that claims Jesus also died on this day and so this day begins and brings to an end the Son of God’s earthly existence. Then, he rises to a new life.
If we consider the feast in this more expansive way, we can say that the Word not only became flesh, but dwelt among us. Recall how St. Paul described Jesus dwelling with us in his letter to the Philippians, read during this feast.
Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.
Mary figures prominently in this mystery. “Be it done to me according to your word,” she says to the angel who announces God’s invitation to bring his divine Son into the world. Her involvement in the Incarnation doesn’t stop as the Word takes flesh in her womb. She is intimately involved in her son dwelling with us. Jesus is born and brought up as a child in her care. For most of his life he lives in Nazareth with Mary and Joseph before beginning his ministry in Galilee and then going to Jerusalem to suffer and die.
Mary had a great part in those first years of his life. When Jesus begins his ministry she only appears occasionally with him until the time he dies. The bond with her son is life long, though. She follows him, even to the cross.
John’s gospel sees Mary standing beneath the cross of Jesus with other women and the beloved disciple. In the other gospels the women who come up from Galilee stand at a distance watching. Though they don’t mention Mary, his mother, we naturally presume she was among them. She has a role in Jesus’ life even to the end.
So many of the sufferings of Jesus are described in Psalm 22, the psalm that provides a framework for the Passion narratives in the gospels. His physical sufferings are described vividly in the psalm, but other kinds of suffering are recalled too. The most prominent is a feeling of being abandoned by God and by those one loves.
We know the opening words of that psalm, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” But some lines later those words are rephrased: “Where is God who drew me forth from my mother’s womb and made me safe from my mother’s breast?” Do the words suggest that Jesus was looking for the comfort of his heavenly Father but also of his earthly mother?
I was talking recently to an experienced hospice nurse who said it was not unusual in her experience for those who are dying to look for loved ones, family members, particularly a mother, to be with them in passing from this life to the next. Was Jesus’ death different than ours? Yes, he was looking for his heavenly Father, but was he also looking for his earthly mother? And she was there, “Be it done according to God’s word.”