THEY BOTH SAID, "YES"
Did she know? Did Mary know she would end up here, at the foot of a cross on a hill outside Jerusalem, watching her eldest son suffer and die? Did she know, when she said yes to the angel’s invitation, that the story of humanity’s redemption would unfold like this? And if she had known, would she have consented as she did, so many years before?
On this Good Friday, we watch as Mary stands on Golgotha, suffering, aching, wishing as any mother would, that she could take the place of her son and spare him. Above her, Jesus hangs alone on the cross, suffering, aching, doing what any mother would ... he takes our place, takes our sorrows and brokenness and sins and bears them, bears them all on his outstretched arms, so that we might be spared. He gives everything. And so does she.
Mary and her son. Jesus and his mother. Today, the circle between them is drawn in singular completeness. Today, in a rare and strange alignment, Jesus’ conception and his death collide. This is Good Friday, which is a movable day in the church year. It shifts along with Easter. But this year, Good Friday falls on March 25, the fixed day in the church calendar when we celebrate the feast of the Annunciation, the day Mary agreed to mother the Christ Child.
The sheer power of these two days intersecting is almost lost to us these days, in this busy, technological and secular world. But when Good Friday and the Annunciation aligned in the year 970, there was widespread panic. People were convinced that the end times were at hand.
That was because the early church fathers had asserted that all the great events of salvation history happened on March 25, including Adam’s creation, the eating of the forbidden fruit, the annunciation and the crucifixion. The world began, they said, and was corrupted, redeemed and restored, all upon this single day. Thus, March 25 became the pivot point of the Christian year. Across the Christianized world, throughout the Middle Ages and beyond, this day was New Year’s Day, and it remained so until 1752, when the last holdout nation, Great Britain, finally shifted its New Year to January 1.
And so today, in a particularly synergistic way, everything begins. Today, everything also ends. Today, the world is fresh and made anew. Today, some foolish humans screw it up. Today, a pregnancy is proclaimed. Today, that same life is smothered on a cross.
Today, we see Mary standing at the foot of the cross, middle-aged and broken-hearted. But we also simultaneously remember her as that startled teenager, looking up to see an angel who would make an incredible offer. It it was an offer she had the chance to refuse. Would she still have said yes, if she had known how it all would end?
I think that when Mary had that choice presented to her, she must have known that things could go badly. She could have been stoned as an unwed mother. She might have died in childbirth. The baby Jesus might have died in infancy. Even grown, there would be no guarantees for her son ... to be the Messiah of a no-account, occupied nation in the great Roman Empire was bound to bring more grief than glory, no matter what the angel said. Even if Mary were hard-pressed to envision a cross, it would have been just as hard to imagine a crown.
But in the end, Mary trusted God. Mary could trust that no matter how things turned out, in her life, or in the life of her son, that God would bring something good out of all of it, for her, for him, for the nation of Israel, and for the whole creation.
So Mary said yes. Yes to the angel, yes to the child, yes to the danger, yes to new life, and yes to eventual death. She said yes to all of it. She did not bargain or negotiate. She did not count the cost.
Jesus too, had a choice. At many, many points in his ministry, he could have walked away, turned away, saved himself. He could have hid out in the caves of Galilee, or preached and healed his way through Asia Minor and Greece to Rome itself. He could have gotten married, settled down and set up a carpenter’s shop. He could have compromised himself, his message and his mission in order to have a quiet, happy life. And who could have blamed him? We do it all the time.
But Jesus didn’t. Jesus too, trusted that God’s purposes were the right purposes, that God’s desires were the true desires. And so he also said yes. Yes to God, and yes to himself. Yes to the man that God had called and created him to be.
He said yes to the truth, yes to the poor, yes to peace and justice, yes to the sick and the dying, yes to the outcast and despised ones. He even said yes to arrest and execution. They were, after all, the eventual outcomes of the life he led -- a life he lived completely for God and for God’s people.
He agreed to all of it. He did not bargain or negotiate. He did not count the cost. He simply stretched his arms out wide, and like his mother before him, Jesus said yes.