Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptised by him. (Matthew 3:13)
‘It is time’, my son said. And my face fell. I had no words. I still don’t. Just memories, treasured up in my heart. Memories that now flood me so fast that I fear they will drown me.
Memories of him as a baby. His softness, the smell of him. And those who, even then, were drawn to him. Shepherds. Travellers from a distant land. A king who believed my sweet baby a threat to his kingdom.
Memories, too, of the time I lost him. Every mother’s nightmare, that was. The kids had always run fairly free on those festival trips. As long as we knew where they were when it was time for eating or sleeping, we were happy. They were good kids. And we were travelling with family, with friends. My boy had more aunties than he knew what to do with! And that year they were twelve. Men, really. So when I’d not seen him at lunchtime, I wasn’t too worried. I figured he’d smiled at one of the other mothers and that she’d fed him as well as her own boy. It’s what we did in those days with the village kids. Always in and out of each other’s houses, they were. But by nightfall, he didn’t come. And a man-boy like that can always be found where there is food. But he was nowhere to be found. Nowhere!
I felt sick that day, much as I did the day last week when he told me it was time. Nearly twenty years may have passed but I was right there again, in that spot a day’s walk out of Jerusalem, feeling sick to my stomach. Then I felt sick because somehow I’d managed to lose the one that the angel told me was God’s Son. I mean, seriously, how do you lose the Son of God? And what on earth do you pray as you search desperately for him? Not an easy conversation, that one, telling the boy’s father – who also happens to be the Almighty One – that you’ve been a bit careless and, since he sees everything, could he please give you a hint where the boy – who also happens to be the hope of Israel – has got to.
That day I felt sick because I let go of him when I shouldn’t have. But this time it’s different. Now I feel sick because I actually do have to let go of him. When he goes from me, when he leaves Galilee, he won’t be back to stay. The thirty-year-old promise must be fulfilled. There is a kingdom to be claimed. And that king all those years ago was right. My son is a king. And though that is joy to me, it is shot through with the words spoken over him as a baby, that he would be a sign that would be opposed. That he would be a sign opposed and that a sword would pierce my heart also.
‘It is time’, he said. And somehow the years have collapsed in on themselves, telescoping, until I remember the angel and the journey to Bethlehem and the flight to Egypt like they were yesterday. The memories pile up, the sword pierces deeper, and yet still I hear those words.
Spoken then in innocence. Spoken now with effort that wrenches my gut and excoriates my heart.
Yet still I will say it, though I tremble and fear.
Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.