“Take my mother home with you” says Jesus to John. What an effort of will it must have taken to think of her needs when his own were so profound. No doubt he too would have been happy had he been able in that moment to go home. He hadn’t had a proper home for years. He’d sacrificed for the sake of his ministry that safety, that intimacy, that space to just be yourself, which home symbolises and at its best makes possible. And now in his final agony he must have wished it would all end and he could have that peace.
Most of us will have experienced times of stress when all we’ve wanted is for it to end and for us to get back to the safety and comfort of home, of life’s familiar pattern. Exhausted and anxious, we’ve felt too weak to see it through. A breathing space would be nice but better still a magical ending to the pain and a return to the kind of welcoming embrace our mothers might have given us with a reassuring ‘there, there’. Perhaps the nearest Christ got to that on the cross were the words of the penitent thief, a stranger who against the backdrop of the cat calls from the crowd and Jesus’ internal struggle, offered recognition of who he was and what he was going through: Remember me when you come into your kingdom.
Of course it isn’t only when we’re under pressure that we need to feel we belong and are loved. It may well not be a particular place, more likely it’s a particular person or group of people who make us feel that we matter and that kind of acceptance is crucial in the whole process of discovering and believing in ourselves. In the Hindu tradition, it’s said that the child in the womb sings: Do not let me forget who I am. But the song after birth becomes: I have forgotten already. Particularly in contemporary society we need constantly to be checking we know who we are and often it’s in coming to the place or person we experience as home that we remember.
Christian spirituality invites is to find our home In Jesus. “Rock of ages, cleft for me let me hide myself in thee”, “Jesus lover of my soul , let me to thy bosom fly”, “Jesus grant me this I pray, ever in thy heart to stay”: just some of the hymns which remind us that the heart of Jesus offers us refuge from life’s storms. That’s a poetic way of speaking of course but the belief’s based on the profound historical truth that it wasn’t only in his life that Jesus opened his heart to embrace people. Of the words that were added later to the tradition of what Jesus said on the cross and which are recorded by Luke and John, three of them show Jesus opening his heart, to his mother Mary, to the penitent thief and to all those who contributed to his dying, Father forgive them. As Jesus’ physical heart struggled to continue beating, his compassionate heart continued to hold others’ needs in its embrace.
So in a moment if we respond to the invitation to come forward to the Cross in an act of devotion, we’ll be coming home. Coming to that place where we know we’ll be safe, held and loved. Coming to that place where we are most truly ourselves. What G.K.Chesterton said about art, is even more profoundly true of the cross: 'We have forgotten who and what we are. But here we remember what we have forgotten'.
"This being human is a guest house. A joy, a depression, a meanness...comes as an unexpected visitor. Welcome and entertain them all, even if they're a crowd of sorrows who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture. The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing and invite them in."
What he’s describing is someone who’s open to receive all that each day brings. Sometimes that’s an awareness of inner defects – our meanness, shame, joylessness– but we can accept these failings when we feel safe within the heart of Christ. Sometimes these visitors who seek entrance to our lives are other people, people who bring with them dark thoughts, a crowd of sorrows.
The welcoming heart of Jesus embraces all who seek entry, he invites in the sorrows of the world, all its deceit and malice, and so devastating is it that, on the cross, in the imagery of Rumi’s poem, it empties his heart of its furniture. Yet it’s a heart like that that we’ll develop once we allow ourselves to find our home in the heart of Christ. Then we too become people with big hearts, welcoming hearts, we become people who do not fear, even in the middle of our own difficulties and at the risk of ourselves being emptied, to open ourselves in love to the pain of others.