Palm Sunday some years back in Atlanta, I don’t remember which. But we are doing our thing—having our annual dramatic reading of the passion story, and it is going particularly well this year. We practiced hard and it shows. The narrator is great. Jesus knows his lines. And then the part comes when Pilate says what he says every year. What do you want me to do with this man? This is the signal for the whole congregation to get in on the action. And the crowd yells, CRUCIFY HIM! CRUCIFY HIM! Bloodcurdling effect. Very satisfactory.
And while the crowd’s pretended rage is still ringing in our ears, from about two-thirds back in the pews, comes a woman’s voice bellowing. NO. NO. NO. Not my Boy. No. Don’t. Not my Boy. And then sobs throbbing through the air to break your heart.
We are appalled, deeply appalled. What had been an audience is becoming something else. What is happening? Somehow 400 observers are transformed into a body of witnesses. I crane my neck and see that someone sitting near her comforts her. Well, thank God. They look for all the world like Mary and John lost at the foot of the cross, her head collapsed on the shoulder of her pew-mate, whose name, I remember, is actually John.
We sit in silence, all of us, for a timeless time. For what had been a well-done scripted and rehearsed play has become anamnesis, has become Real Presence. And the veil of the temple is torn in two. She is there at the foot of the cross. Perhaps you would have diagnosed her as mentally ill or maybe drunk—but she is there and she is our host and takes us there too.
What if we had ushered her out? What a loss. But we didn’t and she was peculiar and beautiful and rich with gifts to give and plugged into the power like I’ve never seen before. Where else would such a woman belong on Palm Sunday during the Passion of Our Lord but in the Body of Christ?
From “Behold Your Mother” in Alive and Loose in the Ordinary: Stories of the Incarnation by Martha Sterne. © 2006. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com.