The Women at the Cross

By Sister Janet M. Peterworth, OSU

Three Marys: Crucifixion by Dawn Williams Boyd
Used with permission.
https://www.dawnwilliamsboyd.com/

They did not think it was going to end this way. The women did not dream they would be standing at the foot of a cross. But death is women’s work. Blood is women’s mark. While the other Evangelists mention women at a distance, it is John alone who notes that the women known as Mary, Jesus’ mother; her sister, Mary the wife of Clopas; and Mary from Magdala were standing near the cross, perhaps under the cross. And they were courageous, and they stood there because perfect love casts out fear.

Women are not afraid of death. In many cultures and down through the ages, it is women who prepare bodies for the grave and women who wash and clean the bodies and wrap them for burial processions. And more recently, it is sometimes women who accompany death row inmates to their final chamber.

Women are not afraid of blood either, for it is the flow of blood that turns a little girl into a young woman and it is the stopping of that flow of blood that turns a mature woman into a wisdom-filled crone. Women give birth in blood and water and thereafter stop bloody noses and tend to bloody knees and elbows.   

The women near that cross were not afraid to look upon the bloodied head of Jesus nor the blood that spurted from the hands and feet when spikes were hammered through them. These women did not turn away or swoon when blood and water came from the pierced side of Jesus. Women stood under that cross and from then on women understood that cross.

They didn’t think it was going to end this way, but it had to. Jesus died this way because of the way he lived. Jesus lived a life of love and service and devotion especially to those who were on the margins…a woman who wanted only the scraps from the table, a woman who believed enough that she just needed to touch his hem, a little girl who was dead but then stood up and ate, a woman who had had five husbands, and a shunned woman who washed his feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. Those women knew Jesus as compassionate friend, liberator from burdens, consoling friend in sorrows, and ally of women’s strivings.

The blessing that women find in their relationship with Jesus today is no longer just private and spiritual—it is moving them into public and social domains and it inspires in them the struggle for freedom from structures of domination in every dimension of life. It is women’s relationship to Jesus that gives them courage to call the Church and society to conversion of hearts, minds, and structures that can reflect the reign of God through Jesus.

It wasn’t supposed to end this way. These women were not supposed to be standing under a cross, but thanks be to God, Good Friday did end this way, so that some women could find an empty tomb on Easter Sunday and go tell the men, “He is risen, He is not here.”

Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother
and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas,
and Mary of Magdala.
When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved
he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.”
Then he said to the disciple,
“Behold, your mother.”
And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.

After this, aware that everything was now finished, 
in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled, 
Jesus said, “I thirst.”
There was a vessel filled with common wine.
So they put a sponge soaked in wine on a sprig of hyssop 
and put it up to his mouth.
When Jesus had taken the wine, he said,
“It is finished.”
And bowing his head, he handed over the spirit.

John 19:25-30

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