For most of my Christian life, Holy Week and Good Friday have been emotionally difficult. It’s a season that brings up old memories of being called a “Christ killer” by the mother of a childhood friend. Hearing Gospel passages of the Jewish people demanding Christ’s death has always made me extremely uncomfortable.
That’s still the case; it might always be. Those passages should make us all uncomfortable, since our collective sins put Christ on the cross.
But those feelings are taking a back seat this year, as there is another aspect of the Passion story demanding my attention that I have previously overlooked.
A Mother’s Grieving Heart
Jesus’ mother doesn’t get much press outside of Catholic spaces. Maybe some churches are afraid to focus on her too much, lest they give the mistaken impression that Mary is the center of our worship rather than her son. This, I believe, is a mistake. One need not offer prayer to Mary in order to properly venerate her as the mother of our savior.
Holy Week and Good Friday focus on the suffering of Christ, but I think we are missing something crucial by not paying attention Mary’s pain as well. It’s something I can’t stop thinking about, now as a grieving mother myself.
Our circumstances are different, of course. Her child was taken by violence, mine by natural causes. Still, a dead child is a dead child, an unimaginable grief for any human to endure.
The Jewish tradition of midrash, otherwise known as “Jewish fan fiction,” elaborates on parts of scripture that are unknown or otherwise absent. We can only guess at what Mary felt about her son’s impending arrest, torture, and execution. We can only imagine the content of her prayers at this time.
“Take This Cup From Me”
One of the hardest parts of this loss so far – harder than being admitted to the ER for a fever and severe abdominal pain due to retained pieces of placenta, even – is that my prayers for a healthy baby were not answered. I prayed daily for God to protect a baby that, unbeknownst to me, had died weeks earlier. Were those prayers in vain?
Jesus’ prayer to avoid suffering was also not answered as he wished. Though fully divine, he was also fully human, and understandably did not wish to undergo this pain if there was some other way to fulfill his purpose. He asked his father to “take this cup from me, yet not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
This brings to mind all the conundrums that theolgians have wrestled with when it comes to prayer. Why bother asking God for things if his will is already planned for us? What good does it do to pray to a God who already knows the future? Could it be that prayer is about our spiritual formation as much as it is about desiring certain outcomes?
I don’t think it’s an either/or situation, but rather both/and. What prayers go unanswered, or answered in different ways than we wanted, can be used for redemption or sanctification in some other way. It’s that last piece of Jesus’ prayer – “Not my will but yours be done” – that is the heart behind everything we ask.
I imagine it was the ultimate desire of Mary’s Holy Week prayers, too.
What Mary Offers to Grieving Mothers
I have a feeling that the Stations of the Cross and accompanying liturgies will hit differently this year. It is not lost on me that this year I unintentionally made my hardest Lenten sacrifice: not getting to meet my daughter earth-side. It was the last thing I wanted. It’s the greatest agony I have ever experienced in my 34 years of life.
But after death comes resurrection.
All unfulfilled prayers are really a longing for heaven.
In Jesus’ suffering, we remember his payment for our sins and that he walks in the valley of death alongside us.
And in Mary, we remember that no pain, no matter how deep or unbearable, is beyond God’s redemption.