Lent 5 March 18: Mary and the Beloved Disciple
The Old Testament reading today is from Jeremiah, the covenant of the heart. The Gospel speaks again of Jesus being lifted up on the cross. The icon today depicts the mother of Jesus and the beloved disciple at the cross. (John 19: 26-7) Jesus bids them each to care for the other. He thus establishes a new covenant of the heart, a covenant of mutual submission. (Note the inclination of the heads.) Formed at the foot of the cross, this new relationship is to be lived out in the spirit of the one who gives his life for others. It is a moment of transference. This new community is now to carry on the mission of Jesus, which, in his last words, is finished. Jesus lets go and trusts others – something we find difficult to do!
Some commentators pick up on the fact that the two people are not named, and so can be seem as representative figures. The mother of Jesus can be seen as all that gave Jesus birth, the whole tradition of Israel, the old covenant. The beloved disciple may represent all disciples, all who see Jesus lifted up and believe. We can see in this the relationship between the old covenant (mother) and the new covenant (the beloved).
For john, the church is a gathering of people where each cares and is cared for, where each washes the feet of the other, where worship is in spirit and in truth, where Jesus is lifted up, where the body of Christ is the new temple.
The story of the original version of this icon can be traced in detail. It was sent to the monastery of Poganovo in Bulgaria from the Empress Helen in Constantinople following the death of her father in 1395. There is a continuous record of the icon until it was removed from the monastery of Poganovo after World War 1, when the region was annexed by Yugoslavia (1919) . It has been kept in very good condition, and was cleaned and conserved in 1959. It now resides in the Institute of Archaeology within the Museum at the Bulgrarian Academy of Science in Sofia, Bulgaria.
Lord Jesus, you call us to be a community where each cares for the other,
a living temple where we are embodied through word and sacrament in your body.
In this scene at the cross we see the model for the new covenant.
Forgive us, Lord, if we think of church as a club where we can meet our friends,
a performance to keep us entertained,
a service group justifying ourselves through good works.
Lord have mercy.
We, your covenant people, offer our hearts.
we see you lifted up and believe,
we respond to your new commandment and submit,
we accept our part in your ongoing mission, and care,
May our worship be in spirit and in truth.
Make us all one, as you are in the Father and the Father in you,
so may we be in you, and you in us,
that the world may believe. Amen