For Holy Week 2019, the Chapel presented a series of first-person narratives, called “Were You There,” from the perspective of different characters. This one, Mary’s Lament, was written and presented by Rev. Amanda Brobst-Renaud, Assistant Professor of Theology, for Tuesday Morning Prayer, April 16, 2019.
There are so many things a mother doesn’t know as she anticipates and witnesses life within her. But this one thing I do know: This is not the way the story was supposed to go. Because now, I am watching my son from a distance, and his whole life is flashing before my eyes, and he is every age that I have ever known him all at once. Like sand falling between my fingers, the memories all cascade, threatening to break me.
There was so much I didn’t know. I was so young when the angel Gabriel came to me. “Greetings, Favored One.” I remember the lurch in my heart as I realized God was calling me to stand in the long line of prophets and teachers that stretched all the way back to Moses. I remember the first flutterings of his movement, of his relationship with John, and of the blessing I spoke over my unborn child. Was I wrong? Was it all for naught? “You have cast the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly,” but today, I watch as the powerful lift up the lowly and hang them on a cross. “You have filled the hungry with wondrous things but sent the rich away empty,” but the palace at a distance feasts while my soul—the life God created within me—is being pierced with a sword. There were so many things I didn’t know, and there is so much I still don’t understand, but Gabriel’s words, “You have found favor with God,” are being revealed as empty promises. Some favor.
I remember the journey, the first pangs of labor on a long journey, Joseph telling me I didn’t look right as we set out for Bethlehem, and me telling myself it was nothing. There was so much I didn’t know: there was nothing that could have prepared me for the pain of labor, but there was also nothing that could have prepared me for the love that overflowed as I kissed my son, Jesus, Immanuel, God with us. But is God with me? Is God with us? These are questions a good Jewish woman asks. Some say it is wrong to question God, but so long as I question God, I expect an answer. So long as I question God, I cry out to the one who promised to help.
Can anyone help me? Can anyone make this stop? Just a few days ago, the crowds sang Hosanna, but today they yell Crucify. The memories flash so quickly. I remember Simeon’s words that he has seen the salvation of God and Anna’s gnarled hands as she blessed my child. At the time, I did not know what Simeon’s words meant; now I know what it means that a sword will pierce my own soul. I cannot make sense of Simeon’s blessing. He died believing he had seen God’s salvation, and maybe he meant all the people who would hear God’s relentless love or all of those who would experience healing or maybe all of the people who found in him something to live for. But finding something to live for is not the same as finding something to die for. What Simeon didn’t tell me is that a sword would pierce my own soul and yet I would live.
There is so much a mother does not understand; she can only treasure the moments in her heart. When he was twelve, we went to Jerusalem for Pesach—for Passover—the festival I am supposed to be celebrating this week. Traveling in groups, our children were cared for, they were well-looked after. Something didn’t feel right as we left, but I didn’t know what (talk about the things a mother doesn’t know). Have you seen Jesus? I asked. Have you seen him? After the third and fourth no’s, I lost it. I started yelling his name in to the wilderness, frantically searching for my child as if he were a lost coin. How do you lose a child so blessed? How do you lose God-with-us? And, moreover, how can God-with-us be lost? We got back to the Temple, and this precocious child was talking with the elders as if he belonged there. Because he belonged there. I saw the twinkle in the Rabbi’s eyes as they imagined him among them. When one debates the Rabbis and they nod and take you on as their equal, it is a sign of respect: of the Divine, of the Law, and of each other. My first feeling was dread and horror, followed by blinding anger at this child (I thought of murdering him myself, but how can you murder God-with-us??? It’s a good and not so ironic question this week), followed by joy, relief, and “Woman, stop touching me.” Joseph and I would tell that story and laugh and laugh after he’d gone to bed at night.
There is so much a mother will never know about her child, even though the child is a part of her body, her soul, her spirit. I remember thinking he had lost his mind, leaving his carpentry tools behind for the life of an itinerant preacher. I heard what they were saying about him. How they wanted him to do miracles but, at the same time, didn’t want him to look down on them. How he was a prophetic witness that reminded me God is still with us, and how I feared he would leave me behind someday. But not like this. Not like this. Not on the instrument of torture, not on a Roman cross, not before me.
A mother knows that this is not how the story is supposed to go. God has not scattered the proud; they have gathered. The powerful have not been cast from their thrones; they sit as princes among men and the emperor as son of a God, and they do not care that a mother watches from a distance, staring into the crowds who should be preparing for Passover, the festival that reminds us that God is always liberating us, God is always passing over our doorposts. But not today. Today, there is no amount of lamb’s blood I can put above my doorpost. Today, God comes for my firstborn. Today, the full will be full and the hungry will be turned away. God promised me. God promised our ancestor Abraham.
My people are full of stories of God doing impossible things, and as they said, “Let him come down from the cross,” I wanted him to come down so that I could wake up from this nightmare of watching my child—pure gift, pure joy, pure love—now a man, laying down a life. For the Romans, it is nothing, but for me, it is everything.
There is one thing a mother knows from the first time she feels her child flutter within her: that she is charged with protecting this being. Today, I cannot protect him. Today, with my bear hands, I will smear blood over my doorpost and pray that, as the angel of death comes, he will see it and know there has been a horrible mistake. God-with-us, God-for-us, God forgive us for all that we do not know.