On Easter Sunday we are meant to ponder the great mystery of Christ‘s passion and death on the cross. Why did he have to suffer so? Why did he have to be brutally executed in the worst form of torture ever known to man? The short answer is: our sins.
Our sin, which began with Adam and Eve in the garden next to a tree, estranged us from God and his love. The sin of Adam brought about death, trapped us in its tomb, and cut humanity off from rewards of heaven.
The passion, death, and resurrection of Christ led to an open tomb, from which Christ really and truly emerged and by doing so, opened the gates of heaven to the sons and daughters of Adam, now freed from the yoke of our disobedience. And this time, the tree was the cross.
What began in a garden with a woman and a serpent ended in a garden when Jesus was betrayed by Judas and so began his paschal journey.
Christianity and Catholicism in particular are often accused of being anti-woman. Some even view the sin of Eve as the beginning of female oppression in western civilization. In fact, wasn’t it really the first example of a husband doing what his wife told him to do?
Joking aside, the good news is that even though sin entered humanity through a woman, humanity’s salvation also began with a woman, the Blessed Virgin Mary. When she acquiesced to God’s request to be the mother of Jesus, she began the irrevocable process that culminated in Jesus‘s resurrection and redemption of mankind.
Because that process was so brutal and violent, God would only allow his son, a man, to bear the suffering. It would have been unseemly and perverse for a woman to undergo such horrific treatment. One recoils at the thought. But God also wants all of his creatures to share in Jesus’s redemptive suffering and he chose Mary, a woman, to share in that suffering in the most excruciating way.
For what could be worse than to watch your dear child who was literally the embodiment of goodness suffer first the betrayal of his countrymen and then the agonizing torture and death on the cross?
The prophet Simeon foretold Mary’s suffering when she and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple for his consecration when he said to Mary (not Joesph), “a sword shall pierce your own soul.”
That’s quite a horrific thing to hear when you’re still celebrating the recent birth of your beloved son, but Mary accepted this and pondered it throughout her life.
Interestingly, at the time of Jesus‘s conception and in his early life, we hear from Mary quite often but we never hear from his earthly father, Joseph.
Similarly, Jesus’s cousin, John the Baptist, was born under strange but wonderful circumstances as well. His father was silenced after expressing doubt about God‘s plan for his son, but we hear quite a bit from his wife Elizabeth, especially when she greets Mary and is surprised by her baby leaping her womb at the sound of Mary’s greeting. She thus exclaims “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!”
So, while it is tragic that Jesus had to die for our sins because of our disobedience, it is something the Catholic Church also celebrates as our “happy fault.“ Our collective transgression resulted in the union of man and God in the person of Jesus Christ through the willing acceptance of a young teenage girl in a back-water town of a remote Roman province 2000 years ago.
And it was Mary and the other female followers of Jesus who were with him in a special way while he carried his cross to Calvary. The men had fled, except for one, and one of them had even betrayed Jesus. But it was the women who consoled him, wiped his face, and knelt at the cross while Jesus suffered his last moments on earth.
And that is why both at Christmas and Easter, it is incumbent upon Christians to remember and celebrate the women who made our salvation possible, starting with and culminating in the Blessed Virgin Mary.
No other religion in history has afforded women such a preeminent place in God’s plan for humanity. No other religion celebrates as the most wonderful human being ever born a woman (Jesus is not merely human; he is both human and divine and so is in a special category all his own).
And this is why we Catholics venerate and honor the Virgin Mary, as did the early Protestant reformers. Her loving presence and eternal devotion continues to inspire both men and women to follow Jesus as she did. And, there was no other person whom Jesus loved more than his Blessed Mother. If we want to be like him, we should also love whom he loves. Happy Easter and God bless.
Peachtree City, Ga.