Below are some meditations I wrote for a Mothers’ Union service last year looking at the Passion of Christ through the eyes of the women who were there. Feel free to use these or adapt them for your own setting.
Reading 1: Mark 14.1-9
It was two days before the Passover and the festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him; for they said, ‘Not during the festival, or there may be a riot among the people.’
While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. But some were there who said to one another in anger, ‘Why was the ointment wasted in this way? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.’ And they scolded her. But Jesus said, ‘Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.’
Meditation on Mary who anoints Jesus
Recently, every time I have been with Jesus, I have heard him talk about his death. He seems to be so sure that something bad is going to happen soon. The other disciples, especially the men, keep trying to brush what Jesus is saying under the carpet – they don’t want to believe it’s true. They are trying to make out that Jesus is using a fancy metaphor again. I don’t think he is using a metaphor, I believe him. You see, everything Jesus says is so compelling, and he has done so much for me. So last night I decided to accept the truth, that Jesus is going to die. I wanted to find a way to thank Jesus for everything he has done for me. He’s the only man who has ever spoken to me as if I were important, and who’s been interested in what I have had to say – he almost treated me as if I were a man. In my small home I have had a precious gift, hidden in the corner chest that was given to me – a pint of pure nard, the most expensive perfume one can buy. I was saving it as part of my dowry, but now I am a little older, I don’t think marriage is going to come to me. So I decided to anoint Jesus with this very perfume as a sign of gratitude for what he has done for me. I went into Simon the leper’s home as the men were reclining over dinner and poured the perfume on Jesus, the smell filled the entire house. It was beautiful. For a single moment, no one said a word, and it felt as if Jesus and I were alone in that place. Then the silence was shattered as the men started to push me around again, like they usually do and complain that I had wasted something so precious. Jesus put out his arm to protect me and stopped the men. He said that what I had done was beautiful. My reaction though was no, Lord, what you have done for me is more beautiful than I could ever express – you showed love for me when no one else did.
Reading 2: Mark 14:12-16
On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, his disciples said to him, ‘Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?’ So he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, “The Teacher asks, Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?” He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.’ So the disciples set out and went to the city, and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.
Meditation on the women who prepare the Passover meal
Passover is my favourite time of the year, it’s busy, yes and sometimes I dread it, what with all the relatives visiting and trying to make sure everything cooks on time. Cleaning the house of all the yeast is a big job, thank goodness I have my daughters Leah and Dinah to help me now with that job! This year has been very different. We have been in Jerusalem with my sons James and John who have come into the city with Jesus, the great rabbi. Being in the big city we knew that we would be in a different place for our Passover Seder this year. I was nervous because I always find it difficult using someone else’s oven for baking and someone else’s pots and pans. The boys came to me and Mary and took us to a room that had been made ready for Jesus to share the Passover with his disciples. We had to go there in secret. The atmosphere in Jerusalem is tense, the Romans always get a bit heavy handed at festival time – more people are out drinking than usual and causing trouble – and of course, the city is full of people, every house is full of guests. When we came into Jerusalem on Sunday, Jesus was riding on a donkey’s colt, his feet were almost scraping the ground, it did look quite funny! But it was supposed to, Jesus was making fun of the way the Roman rulers ride so triumphantly into the city at this time of year – Jesus was showing how false that way of leading is. So we laughed and cheered and threw palm branches in his way and sang the old song of praise ‘hosanna to the Son of David’. You can imagine what the Roman guards made of that! So we are having to be very careful not to draw too much attention to ourselves. It would be such a disaster if we could not celebrate the Passover together. So I’ve managed to slow cook the lamb, we have the bitter herbs and my very special recipe of charoset – the honey mix that looks like the cement the Hebrew slaves had to use to build the pyramids – it has a secret ingredient! Now I’m toasting the matzoh bread, the unleavened bread ready for Jesus to bless and we’ve filled the cups with wine. As the oldest woman here, I will have the honour of kindling the Passover lights at the beginning of our meal this evening and saying the prayers. Something tells me that this night is going to be extra special.
Reading 3: Mark 15.25-47
It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. The inscription of the charge against him read, ‘The King of the Jews.’ And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!’ In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.’ Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.
When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, ‘Listen, he is calling for Elijah.’ And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.’ Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’
There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.
When evening had come, and since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate wondered if he were already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he had been dead for some time. When he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the body to Joseph. Then Joseph bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body, wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body was laid.
Meditation on Mary standing at the cross
I’m the other Mary, not Jesus’ mother Mary, but her good friend and I’ve been here in Jerusalem with her and Salome, James and John’s mother in this most terrible week. I feel hollowed out after what I have seen today, for so many reasons. Jesus, the one whom we thought had come to save us all, the one who we know came from God, was brutally crucified today outside the city on the rubbish dump. The smell was unbearable, rotting food, sweat, blood, animal dung, the flies were all around and the sun was relentless, not a cloud in the sky to give us any welcome shade. What was perhaps more unbearable for us was that the men left us, they couldn’t stay to watch Jesus die, to watch all their hopes and dreams die, so they fled, probably back to the secret room we cooked the Passover in. So it was just me and those of us women who loved Jesus so much that stayed. We couldn’t leave him, we couldn’t leave him all alone as he died that terrible death. We cried and moaned as we saw him tortured by those Romans and clung to each other as we stood a little way off. We prayed but it felt like praying to a brick wall. It was so desolate. Even after noon the sun suddenly grew dark, it went cold, as if a light had just been extinguished.
My heart broke to see it, and broke to be there with Mary his mother at that moment. I will stay here for as long as I’m needed, Mary needs me now, I will try and be strong for her. I’ve brought the spices and together with Salome we will lovingly lay out Jesus’ body. He cared so much for us in life, this is a small thing we can do for him in death.