Is it nothing to you, all you that pass by? Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow.
This familiar passage from Lamentations is so appropriate for today, isn’t it? Today is the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows. Mater Dolorosa. What a whirlwind of feelings she must have embodied! First, the loss of a child, one of the most heart-wrenching things that can happen to a parent…a child of any age.
Second, what, at the foot of the Cross, looked to be the contradiction of all that had gone before with such promise.
Third, the desertion by most of the Apostles while she and John and the women were left alone.
Our Lady of Sorrows.
But wasn’t she prepared for this? Wasn’t she told by Rabbi Simeon, as we hear in today’s Gospel,
“Behold, this child is destined
for the fall and rise of many in Israel,
and to be a sign that will be contradicted
and you yourself a sword will pierce
so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
Artists through the ages have depicted Mary in her sorrow, some even with seven swords embedded in her representing her Seven Sorrows. And many musicians have set the sorrows to music, especially the Marian hymn:
Stabat mater dolorosa
juxta Crucem lacrimosa,
dum pendebat Filius.
At the Cross her station keeping,
stood the mournful Mother weeping,
close to her Son to the last.
Isn’t this heartbreaking?
What are we to make of this devotion to a sorrowing mother? We Christians who are invited to incomparable joy with our Lord, how are we to fall to weeping with Mary? Isn’t this its own contradiction for us?
But are we not human? Are we not allowed at times to fall into self-pity, sorrow, despair?
Then maybe that’s the value of the phenomenon of Our Lady of Sorrows. Here is a way to experience these feelings that will not bring us down into the pit, she is a safe haven for us to mourn, and to experience the catharsis of deep, deep sorrow.
We have only to read our Bible to find many cues to us that it is time to mourn: over the death of Absalom, over the Holy Innocents, over the martyrdom of John the Baptist. And we can mourn the losses in our own lives: our friends, our parents, and so sadly, yes, our child. And especially we can mourn with Mary over the torture and death of her son, our Lord.
And sorrowing with Mary, we can feel the pain in her heart and her hands and her feet and her brow as she contemplates the wounds inflicted on her son. We can let ourselves go and weep along with her, and for her, and for us and our own many sorrows.
The sorrows of everyday life that we all experience.
We can cry until our throats hurt and our body is wracked with despair.
And then, as we are in the midst of our lamentations, we can feel the hand of Mary. We can imagine the comfort that she can bring us. And we can see her as she intercedes for us with her son. She is our Blessed Mother and we can surrender ourselves to her comfort just as we used to with our own mothers.
Because that is the message we were given, and that we hope to give to others. As George Fox heard, “There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition.” And as John says in his Gospel, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
Wasn’t Mary joyful as she heard these words from her risen son? Didn’t all her sorrow come to fruition with the Resurrection and Ascension?
So it can be with us, today and all our days. We can remember Mary’s sorrow and we can rest comforted. We can remember our own sorrow and we can go out and comfort others. Because we have Jesus and Mary as pure examples of how sorrow can and will turn to joy when we open our hearts to God and his promises.
Father, as you comforted Mary and your Son, comfort us as we go through the world. Help us to sustain others in their sorrow and help us to bring the light of gladness to all we meet today and into the future. In Jesus’ name, Amen.