The final week of reflections from Paula Gooders’ The Meaning is in the Waiting focuses on Mary, who was called to a lifetime of waiting.
After the visit of the angel, she must wait for the birth of this miracle child – wait for childbirth in the hope that all will be well, wait to see how Joseph will respond in the fear that she will be rejected.
After the encounter with Simeon at the temple, she must wait for the moment which he says will pierce her soul – wait without knowing when it will come or how much it will hurt, wait without knowing whether or not she will be able to bear it.
And after the death of Jesus, she must wait to see what will happen next – wait in the knowledge that those close to him may still be in danger, wait wondering if his cryptic words will come to something.
Luke portrays Mary as a woman who thinks deeply. She ponders the meaning of the greeting the angel brings, and she treasures up the words of the shepherds. I wonder if that thoughtfulness made her waiting harder, leading her anxiously into imagining worst case scenarios in the dark of the night, or if it enabled her to find great meaning in her waiting, bringing insights and glimpses that allowed her to hold fast to hope and expectation.
Either way, Mary’s lifetime of waiting surely brought her great joy and great pain. She bled and suffered through labour, but how she must have felt when she held that baby. Her heart was pierced at the cross, but how it must have soared at the empty tomb. And the joy must have won out in the end, because as Gooder notes, her presence with the disciples in the first chapter of Acts is her first act of voluntary waiting.
Jesus has been raised and ascended into heaven. Her role as mother is ended and she no longer has to wait for him. And yet she chooses to wait for the Spirit he has promised. The pain has been worth it, and if there is more pain to come she will accept it.
It was impossible to find a picture of Mary that wasn’t cloyingly sweet, but I believe she was tougher than the soft focus and warm glow of the portraits would have us believe. She was not just a woman of patient obedience, but she was also a woman of defiant faith. And for that I love her.