Who on Christ’s dear Mother gazing, pierced by anguish so amazing, born of woman, would not weep? Who, on Christ’s dear mother thinking, such a cup of sorrow drinking, would not share her sorrows deep? --paraphrased from the text of a medieval Latin poem, the Stabat Mater, in our Holy Week Hymn #159. “At the Cross her vigil keeping.”
Pieta, Michelangelo Buonarotti, St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican, 1499
March 25th, this past Thursday, on the Church calendar the Feast of the Annunciation of our Lord Jesus Christ to the blessed Virgin Mary. Always an interesting moment as we draw toward the end of Lent and the beginning of Holy Week. The dark clouds overhead suddenly seem to part for a moment—for a moment of Christmas. Catching us by surprise. Thinking of the line from T.S. Eliot, in the Four Quartets, East Coker: “In my beginning is my end.” The straight lines of our lives curve back on themselves.
So, pausing with Mary, as we enter this Holy Week. Catching our breath by her side.
At St. Paul’s Bloomsburg, where I served before coming here, there was a wonderful collection of twelve stained glass windows around the nave with scenes from the life of Jesus. The first window in the north aisle was the Annunciation. Something like the Annunciation panel (lancet) we have in our south transept, in the Clara Miller Burd Nativity window. Ours I just love—very much in the art deco style which I think of as Mrs. Burd’s homage to Louis Comfort Tiffany, with whom she had worked at an earlier point of her career.
But in any case, the window at the head of the north aisle in Bloomsburg was like that: Gabriel and Mary. And across the nave, at the head of the south aisle, a window representing the Pieta. Our Mother, Mary of Sorrows. The traditional scene of Mary cradling the broken and lifeless body of her son as it has been removed from the Cross. As we are all familiar of course from the Michelangelo. And the interesting effect was, in the Annunciation window, Mary’s head is turned away from the Archangel, in her moment of awe and wonder. And in the Pieta, Mary is looking not down at the Body, but out into the distance. And it always seemed to me that their eyes met across the Church. A connection between them, a convergence. A communion. “In my beginning is my end.” In my end my beginning.
By the end of this Holy Week story just about everyone had run for the hills. Burrowed into secret rooms. Windows closed. Doors locked tight. Just a few, as we would hear from all the gospel accounts, hanging around to the end. Some women. His mother. Young John. Otherwise it was just the crowd gathered for the spectacle. The Roman soldiers. A handful of representatives from the religious authorities, to be sure the deed was done.
And for me it’s hardest of all to look at Mary. Frozen in her anguish. Broken. Tears rolling silently down her cheeks. She to whom Gabriel had come so long ago. “Hail, Favored one, full of grace, the Lord is with you.” She who had watched as the shepherds ran down from the hillsides to that Bethlehem stable. The child asleep in the manger. Who was born to be a blessing, Emmanuel, God with us.
And now this.
She stands before us, and we want with every fiber of our being to turn away, because it is so painful to watch. Because when the going got tough, we got going. Because there is nothing we can say.