This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul also. Luke 2:35
On the walk to his death, Jesus meets his mother. Would it be possible for any words to pass between them? Would it be possible for either of them to give comfort to the other from some source of love that rises above pain and grief?
At the cross her station keeping
Stood the mournful Mother weeping
Close to Jesus to the last.
Through her heart his sorrow sharing
All his bitter anguish bearing
Now at length the sword has passed.
It is an ancient practice to sing verses from the Stabat Mater Dolorosa during the Stations of the Cross as the cross and the congregation process from station to station.
These first two verses of the Stabat Mater show Mary standing by the cross being pierced through with grief as foretold in Simeon’s prophecy to Mary at the time when Jesus was presented in the temple as an infant. There is a devotional tendency to reverence Mary’s grief as the deepest grief ever experienced using the words from Lamentations. “Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow, which was brought upon me.”
We do right to honor the grief of Mary, but if it is to be a story that can hold us, we need to acknowledge this same sorrow everywhere in the world where there are parents whose souls are being pierced through with grief.
In fact, some of the power of this part of the story is that it has been a holding place for so many. The lamentation of Mary has been a vehicle for artists and composers from many religious traditions to express their own suffering and pain. The Ultimate Stabat Mater Site has some 250 versions of the Stabat Mater in their collection. I credit them with the information that Antonin Dvorak composed his Stabat Mater in the context of the loss of three of his children. David Haladjian composed his version in memory of the Armenian earthquake victims of 1988. Eitan Steinberg, an Israeli composer, used portions of the Latin text for a Stabat Mater about the loss of sons in war. And Somei Satoh, from Japan, dedicated his Stabat Mater to mothers who have lost children from hunger or war.
We walk with Mary in her grief as she accompanies her son to his death. We walk with the parents from Parkland, Florida. We walk the family of Stephon Clark who lost his life through a police shooting in Sacramento, with those who have lost family members to homicide in Philadelphia, to war in South Sudan, to famine and illness and natural disasters. We let our hearts and souls be pierced through.