Two weeks ago I took the kids to our homeschooling group’s annual Lenten retreat. The theme of this year’s retreat was The Seven Sorrows of Mary. A young priest, Fr. Anthony Cusak, (himself a homeschool graduate) gave a meditation for the mothers that was just beautiful. As he spoke of the Flight into Egypt he referenced a painting at the MFA. I knew I needed to go look up the painting and also that I needed to go look up art to go with all the sorrows and to post them here with some of what I remember from his talk and some of my own thoughts and reflections. So here is the fourth of a planned series of seven posts: First: The Prophecy of Simeon, second: Flight into Egypt, third: The Loss of the Child Jesus in the Temple, fourth: Meeting Jesus on the Way of the Cross, fifth: The Crucifixion, sixth: The Descent from the Cross.
Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.
It is finished. It is over. Done. Jesus is placed in the tomb, the stone is rolled into place. She can see his face no more. That face she has studied carefully, loved devotedly, worshipped prayerfully, since the day he was born.
How horribly final it must have been. How alone and forsaken must Mary have felt. If Jesus felt forsaken on the cross and cried out to his father in the words of the Psalm: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” then must not those words have echoed in Mary’s heart as the stone is rolled over the entrance of the tomb?
You have laid me in the depths of the tomb,
in places that are dark, in the depths.
I call to you, Lord, all the day long;
to your I stretch out my hands.
Will you work your wonders for the dead?
Will the shades stand and praise you?
Will your love be told in the grave
or your faithfulness among the dead?
Will your wonders be known in the dark
or your justice in the land of oblivion?
As for me, Lord, I call to you for help;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
Lord, why do you reject me?
Why do you hide your face?
Wretched, close to death from my youth,
I have borne your trials; I am numb.
Your fury has swept down upon me;
your terrors have utterly destroyed me.
They surround me all the day like a flood,
they assail me all together.
Friend and neighbor you have taken away:
my one companion is darkness.
I find it hard to dwell on how final the tomb is, how Mary must have felt then. I keep wanting to jump to the resurrection instead. Let’s just skip this part, we know how it’s going to end. Mary knew. She must have known. That this wasn’t the end. She’d seen Jesus raise the dead. She trusted in him. And yet I can imagine that knowledge was no comfort at all at that moment when his body was laid in the grave and the tomb was sealed. Mothers should not have to bury their children. Death is always an affront. We were not made for death but for life. And Jesus’ death is the greatest affront of all for he is Life itself, the very Being that breathed life into all Creation. And here he is dead and cold and buried. How can that be? It should not be and Mary must have wanted to rage against it with every fiber of her being. A sword through her heart? What part of her did not suffer at his death?
But I find I can’t quite end there. For there is resurrection, new life, and hope for all. Maybe it brought little comfort, but perhaps even in the darkness of Mary’s anguish the Psalms whispered hope: a breath of Easter whispering in her ear even as the stone sealed her away from her beloved son.
My heart is glad,
and my soul rejoices;
my body also rests secure.
For you will not leave my soul among the dead,
nor let your beloved know decay.
You show me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy,
in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.