The Mourner’s Bench

Station Eight – Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem

A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. But Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.”

Luke 23:27-28

Death on a Friday Afternoon by Richard John Neuhaus is a series of meditations on the words of Jesus from the cross.  His chapter on the words, “It is Finished” is titled The Sacrifice. Into this chapter, Neuhaus weaves a summary of Peter De Vries’s novel The Blood of the Lamb, a fictionalized account of the loss of De Vries’s 12-year-old daughter Carole to leukemia. The father in this story loses the battle to reclaim his faith as he prays for his daughter’s recovery and copes with her death.  He speaks of being “inconsolable, thanks to the eternal ‘Why?’ when there is no Why, that question twisted like a fishhook in the human heart.”  De Vries’s novel ends with “the recognition of how long, how long is the mourners’ bench upon which we sit, arms linked in undeluded friendship, all of us brief links, ourselves, in the eternal pity.”

The women of Jerusalem will join the mourner’s bench of the eternal pity as will women and men all over the world.  De Vries inverts one of the beatitudes and says, “Blessed are they who comfort, for they too have mourned, may be more likely the human truth.” Those who have not suffered and mourned are only capable of “the throb of compassion rather than the breath of consolation.”    

Using the words from Isaiah, we recognize Jesus as a “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” We long to see consolation in his face. From experience we know that consolation will not come through explanations but only through presence. Neuhaus says that in his death Jesus has penetrated the heart of darkness meaning that no one is alone. “There is nobody seated on the long mourner’s bench of the eternal pity who is now in a place where Jesus has not been before, where he is not now.”

In his introduction to Elie Wiesel’s Night, Francois Mauriac speaks of meeting the young man Wiesel and hearing his story including the terrible scene that occasioned Wiesel’s loss of faith. Mauriac looks to provide consolation.

And I, who believe God is love, what answer could I give my young questioner, whose dark eyes still held the reflection of the angelic sadness that had appeared one day upon the face of the hanged child? ….. Did I speak to him of that other Jew, his brother, who may have resembled him – the Crucified whose Cross has conquered the world? … We do not know the worth of one single drop of blood, one single tear. All is grace. If the Eternal is the Eternal, the last word for each of us belongs to Him. This is what I should have told this Jewish child. But I could only embrace him, weeping.

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