(The following are somewhat different from my usual writing style, they are more prose based and the fruit of spending time in prayer and using the practice of Lectio Divina – I share them for your own reflection)
(Simeon the Godreceiver by Alexei Yegorov)
Sorrow One – The Prophecy of Simeon
It has been many months since those holy words were uttered by that Angelic being – and the young girl found herself unmarried but with child. The road since that moment, since her consent, since she herself uttered those now immortal words – ‘be it unto me according to your will’ has not been easy. A young woman, betrothed and with child. The looks, the shame she had faced. Joseph had remained by her side, stoic, supportive, refusing to give way. His own wavering confidence, those nagging doubts, now all a thing of the past. Her joy increased as time marched on, the visit to her cousin in the hill country, Elizabeth, advanced in years and yet now also expecting – and those beautiful words of greeting – the mother of the Lord – it would all be worth it.
Now – the baby born – in her arms. A little boy – obediently called Jesus, a perfect child. As she gazed down upon Him she could see His life stretched out before Him. The greatness that she had been told of, the salvation that He would bring. She thanked God, she praised Him and in devotion they wound their way to the temple, to present Him and dutifully dedicate Him to the Lord.
No sooner had the feet of that holy family crossed the threshold they were approached by the elderly Simeon, the prophet, the well-known man of God – He scooped the child into his arms, his aged eyes danced with the truth of eternity as he gazed upon that boy – the fulfilment of a promise – between him and God, between God and all humanity. His trembling lips spoke powerful words – encapsulating the rise and fallow nations – astonishing words.
Swirling emotions – of pride, of disbelief. This baby, her little boy.
Then the ancient prophet turns to her, his eyes betray all that is to come. Not just a prophecy, but a warning. A sword will pierce your own soul too. He will suffer, and you will suffer with him. Those tears of joy for his safe delivery will turn to sorrow at his cross, those young supple fingers that cradle him now, will, in their gnarled old age, grasp his lifeless body. All he feels, you shall too. It shall pierce your soul.
The First sorrow.
(The Flight into Egypt by Eugène-Alexis Girardet)
Sorrow Two – The Flight into Egypt
Hardly a stress free birth. The arduous journey to the ancestral home at the order of a foreign dictator imposing taxation laws on a people he cared little for. The swarm of people in the small town of David, snapping up every available room for rent. Distant relations unable to offer respite. Their small homes crammed with others, already. Every door closed, every window shutter slammed. No room, no room, no room. Niceties had cease by this point. No sorry, no beg of pardon. Just, no room.
Pity offered by one – a stable room amongst the animals. Hardly a grand hotel but a relief from the biting night Bethlehem air, and she could go on no further. The movement within, involuntary, began. Pangs, contractions, waters. The psychical herald of the arrival of this king. Coming into the world like any other – prince or pauper – we begin the same.
Simple shepherds, mystical eastern men, Angels, starlight and divine glory – the hardship silence by adoration. But in the quiet of the night – the sleeping Joseph tosses and turns – his mind assaulted by a message from on high. Take this woman, take this child and leave. Flee. Do not delay.
Morning is forbidden to break by his frantic action. Meagre belongings hastily collected and unceremoniously stuffed into bags. His precious cargo is prepared. And they are homeless. Wanders. Leaving the city of their great ancestor and in an ironic twist returning to the alien land, once the forced homeland of their people before God’s liberation – yet this land now becomes a bastion, a fortress of protection from the blood thirsty Herod. Nazareth a distant memory – for God only knows how long.
The Second Sorrow.
(The Young Boy teaching the elders – By Carl Bloch)
Sorrow Three – Jesus is lost in the Temple
The hustle and bustle was incredible and there was the crackle of excitement in the air as people – men, women, children poured into the city. Hardly room to move amidst those flocking to the Temple for this great festival. Shouts of greeting between old friends, extended family – children playing with cousins seldom seen – the traders calling out for business, touting their wares for the celebration.
Mary is there, with Joseph and Jesus. Making their passover pilgrimage with a great group of family. Chatter, catching up, sharing the news. The pilgrimage passes in a flash, the city begins to empty. The large family group, tired and happy, make their way home. Trekking from the city, reliving the moments in the temple, with their friends. Everyone together. A rare occurrence and one of great beauty. The hour pass and day turns to night. Rest is taken.
He has gone. The boy Jesus is not with mother, not with father, not with aunts, uncles, cousins. Not amongst the other children as they though he was. All their joy does not ebb away but shatters in an instant. A sinking feeling, a stone in the stomach. Lost. This precious child, announced by angels, adored by kings, anointed by God, entrusted to their keeping for the whole of creation. and He is gone.
Tired bodies leap to action. The search begins. Back to Jerusalem, Back through the markets, back to the houses of family and friends. Nowhere to be found. Nowhere to be seen. Gone.
The Third Sorrow.
(Film Still – The Passion of the Christ by Mel Gibson)
Sorrow Four – Jesus and Mary meet on the way to Calvary
Palm branches and coats lifted up and thrown down in jubilation at the welcome of the the saviour – a far cry from the present journey. His weight once carried on a colt – now he drags it himself with the added wood across his shoulders, the searing pain of whip lashes grate against the grain of that cross. Jeering crowds spitting words of malice – mocking – deriding – insulting – metaphorical vinegar in the open wounds.
Those who followed Him, gave up their all for Him stand mingled with the crowd. Shock at the sight of Him preventing tears. Fear of those beside them shouting, preventing words of protest. Heavily armed soldiers block their way and prohibit access to Him, if they were not so rooted to the spot as each step He struggles to make predicts their own path.
Then a frail form emerges from the throng. Once bright blue shawl faded with the years. Once plump flesh descends to valleys of wrinkles about the eyes. Instinctive reaction of a mother, swooping in as a child falls – but now, she is old and He is grown – no more the child but no less her Son. As His face once again hits the ground the presses against Him. Fingers curled against his battered skin. Through sweat and blood stained locks of hair, He forces Himself to look up – the reward is her face – one He knows and loves so well.
The typical mother – masking her pain, hiding her concern. No words spoken. Nothing is needed. Her eyes say it all. That she loves Him. His resolve is strengthened – as though she has granted Him some of her own in some strange cosmic connection. As He begins to rise He is dragged quickly away – back on the path – back toward the place of execution.
She crumples, the faded blue shawl now marred with blood – gripped in her hands and mixed with her tears.
The Fourth Sorrow.
(The Crucifixion by Hendrick ver Brugghen)
Sorrow Five – The Crucifixion
It is not supposed to be this way. Justice is to protect the innocent. But here it fails as the innocent is condemned. Not just to a life that lacks freedom but to a government ordered death. Corruption, deceit, betrayal. All have played their hand. She draws as close as she dare. The agony of His face is etched upon her soul and her eyes screw tightly closed in time with the rhythmic beat of iron against iron – hammer against nail – metal against wood, and bone, and flesh.
The crowd are silent now. Their jeers subdued by the screams of agony. Even those for whom He is an emery of God cannot help but feel the barbarity of this organised butchering. Those who shouted CRUCIFY CRUCIFY are now struck by the brutal reality – of death and all that means. Complicit rather than compassionate.
As He is stretched out upon that cross – His modesty preserved by blood stained rags about His middle, she can’t help but wistfully look back to that night so many years ago when that same body, was coddled in cloth and resting against wood – far more peacefully. The blood upon Him that night was hers, and now they have spilled His.
Loss. All is taken from her. Joseph, her protector gone, now her son, snatched away. Quivering lips and tear-filled eyes look heavenward, despite her agony, despite the words of the prophet simeon echoing in her mind, through the years, despite all this – this gory circus unfolding before her, she has never ceased to look up, to Him.
The Fifth Sorrow.
(Christ on the Cross by Peter Paul Rubens)
Sorrow Six – The Piercing of the side of Christ and His descent from the Cross.
The sky was darkening despite the time of the day. As though creation were in sympathy for this cataclysmic event taking place. From the cross He cries up to heaven. Words obscured by pain and the unrest of the crowd. The head of the messiah falls, chin upon his chest, slumped. Eyes fixed upon Him wait, unblinking. Is He? Can He be? The centurion stands sentinel, watching cooly, pondering. Some ruse? Some attempt at deceit. Young able bodied criminals do not die in a matter of hours – the Romans famous for the lingering death of crucifixion.
A shouted order and a lower ranking solider jumps to attention, leaving his post of crowd control guarding and approaching the raised saviour. Without thought, just following instruction, the sharp metal of the spear cuts through the side. The soldier, battled hardened and disciplined barely flinches as he is showered with crimson blood and water. No movement from the body. The author of life, now Himself lifeless and limp. He is dead.
No point in waiting, in wasting time. Ladders up, soldiers ascent. Hammers effortlessly plunk nails from wood and the body falls. Graceless, undignified descent. Slumped upon the ground, the very ground His hands had made. Again the mother cradles Him, dead, in her arms. Nothing more to say or do. Soldiers withdraw, back to their duty, just another day. His friends gather in silent vigil. She holds Him.
The Sixth Sorrow
(Lamentation over Christ by Peter Paul Rubens)
Sorrow Seven – Jesus is placed in the tomb.
A hand upon her shoulder and a kindly face. A familiar friend. A man of wealth and means, respected. A lone voice of descent in the council as they bickered and condemned the Lord. A petition made and the governor agrees, the body can be removed, taken from the place of the skull and buried. Some dignity in death. Some solace amongst the chaos.
He is taken from her again. Without force, without carelessness – with comfort, consideration. In the arms of supporters she follows Him. It is as though her own strength has ebbed away with His. He has been lifted from her lap and now she has nothing left of her own. Empty.
The clean hewn cave – a perfect tomb. The temporary corpse laid upon the slab. Haste in respect of the ritual day, care with respect of the deceased, compassion with respect for the mother. Loitering near the entrance. Unable to face the gloom within, already battling her own darkness. The work is done and the disciples withdraw – the final glimpse of His earthly flesh as the huge stone crashes in place. Darkness within, darkness without. He is gone.
A sword will pierce your own soul too. It has, it does.
The Seventh Sorrow.