Though we would never willingly hire its services, grief is an accomplished unifier.
One of the ways that Jesus’ experience takes in that of pained humanity is his acquaintance with grief, and of its adoptive requirements.
But standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, 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 to his own home. (John 19:25–27 ESV)
The ‘disciple whom Jesus loved’ is likely a humble self-depiction of the Fourth Gospel’s author. Some strength of friendship, very close to sibling affection, linked Jesus and this man in an almost family way. Among Jesus’ dying words from the cross comes this formalizing of family, produced not by biology’s traceable accidents but rather by the unforeseen sinews of friendship that links friends more closely than brothers, and occasionally draws a weeping mother into its awesome web.
If this is so, Mary the bereaved finds a place in John’s home. Her weeping late in the evening perhaps offered subtle counterpoint to the day’s noisier music. Perhaps John wept with her, their shared loss eventually reframed but not obliterated by resurrection’s song.
If this shared grief seems especially poignant to us, it is not alien. We know the muscular embrace of shared loss, how it dismantles conventions and joins together those who might have passed in the street as strangers but are now become brother, sister, mother, and son.
Even here, the early Jesus movement did not lose itself to other-wordly utopias. It knew the knife of grief. It recalled the necessity of provision for those left in the close wake of events.
‘Behold, your mother …’
It might not have been Mary’s preferred family. Yet family it was, welcome, sufficient, accommodating of that grief that in its moment mingles with laughter and new dawns.