That Damn Magnificat

A sermon preached in St Mary’s Cathedral on Good Friday 2022

There’s something about spending these three hours in a church dedicated to Mary.

Through the year, we often get particular joy from keeping the Marian festivals. We’ve got more music in the choir library about her than about any of the others who accompanied Jesus in this life.

We sing with her the Magnificat every Sunday at evensong. We share her joy. We share her hopes for a world turned upside down. Where the mighty would what they deserve. At last.

In a church dedicated to Mary, because we pay attention to her, we get a unique insight into her Son Jesus. Because she was there. There at the beginning when he was born. There when he taught the learned teachers in the temple. There sometimes when he was teaching the rather more thick disciples and the adoring crowds. There when he performed the the first miracle – water into wine.

What did she think when that one happened?

Go my son. That’s the world we want. A world put right. A world where God breaks in and joy breaks out.

But the trouble for us is that having accompanied her through all of this, we now find ourselves in his company again.

Mary stands at the foot of the cross. It is almost unimaginable that she was able to stay. But presumably unimaginable for her to leave until it is over.

And a few other women comfort her and stand beside her in her agony.

And John, the beloved. He’s there too. Ready to take her in.

We enter into Mary’s experience when the going is good. How on earth do we enter into her experience today.

Can we see this day through her eyes or is it entirely beyond what we can bear to think of?

It is common in newsgathering to tell the story of disasters through the tears of parents weeping for their children. Mothers particularly.

A whole war may be too much to take in. A whole nation invaded is expressed in arrows on a map, nothing more. A whole cities get bombed and we struggle to know one from another. It happens over there.

But a mother’s tears at a crucifixion…

Harder to ignore. Harder to walk on by.

Theological concepts are broken by the crucifixion.

Theories of how we are reconciled to God circle the crucifixion scene like vultures.

They are too big to grasp. And they offer no comfort to a mother weeping either.

What does she think as she stands there?

Can she think? Can she process this?

Raw. Present. The pain. The agony. The tears.

Three hours is long enough to think. This is a cruel death for those being crucified. This is a cruel death for those watching.

I’ve been haunted by a question this year as I try to keep company with Mary at the cross.

Did she hold fast to what she had believed about God – all the things that she had taught him?

Or did it all break down on that day?

One of the things that I love about Mary is that her spirituality seems to be about two things which she ties together.

The world being put right is one of her themes.

And the joy of singing God’s praises is another.

Now you can find plenty of other saints who loved those things. But Mary uniquely brings them together.

My soul magnifies the Lord. And my spirit rejoices in God my saviour.

He has shown the strength of his arm. And the proud and the mighty and the rich have got their comeuppance at last.

It is joyful spirituality. Full of cheek and full of fun.

And oh, how often when I hear Jesus giving clever answers that bring God right into the lives of people who need God most, or when I see him turning over the tables of those who are corrupt, I think, I bet he got that from her.

But as she stands at the cross, what on earth goes through her head.

What questions does this hell scene raise for her.

Does she keep repeating to herself again and again, “The mighty will be brought low. The mighty will be brought low. The mighty will be brought low”.

Or is it worse than that.

Does she loose faith with it all today?

As she looks on and smells death all around her does she call on God.

We have no words from Mary on Good Friday. Nothing is recorded from her.

I don’t know what she said.

But I guess that had it been me, I wouldn’t be singing of the goodness of God nor of a world put right.

I’d be thinking, “Shit! The bastards have won. I wish I’d never brought him up the way I did. What could I have done differently? I should have taught him to keep his mouth shut more.

That damn Magnificat. Look where it has got him.

I sang, God has filled the hungry with good things.

But I’ve not eaten in hours and I never want to eat again. My stomach is in knots as he twists and turns in agony.

I sang, from this day all generations will call me blessed.

But from this day all generations will call me cursed.

I sang about God sending the rich and the mighty and the powerful away empty.

But they’ve won. They’ve won. They’ve beaten him.


`I sang, He has come to the help of his servant Israel.

But God hasn’t come to his aid. He hasn’t turned up at all.

I sang about the promises that God had made to our forebears to Abraham and his children forever.

But he has forgotten me today.

It is finished.

My song is finished.

And I’ll never sing again.


  1. We don’t get a word, as the mother of one son, a miracle having been told early in my adult life there would be no babies, a son arrived. No words would have been possible, having nurtured, taught, loved, HOW, HOW, HOW has it come to this. Yet all His life she had known He was different, witness the wedding wine, only His mother could have asked for the miracle, because she knew !!!and maybe always knew it could not end well so stood in speechless sorrow lest she scream out.

  2. Rod Gillis says

    Thanks so much for this! I watched the video version as part of my daily office for this Holy Saturday. Much appreciated.

  3. Peggy Brewer says

    One of the best sermons I’ve heard! Thank you!

  4. Rosemary Hannah says

    All I ever knew when I believed my own child would die, that the only person I could bear to think of in the agony of grief and fear was her. Because she knew. She KNEW.

Speak Your Mind