Why Mary's Tears Matter
Limbs stiff, heart broken, she stood and looked at the cross. Who knows pain as tender and poignant as a mother? Who knows suffering as a mother who has lost her son? Today is a great feast, the Feast of the Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Yet, there is irony here. We are celebrating sadness, pain, and loss of the heaviest kind, and we are celebrating it with joy, with bright flowers and white vestments. Here, standing at the cross, in the midst of so much sorrow, we discover a joy beyond understanding.
“Standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home” (Jn. 19:25-27).
Jesus Christ was in agony. It was the cruelest torture known. Blood poured from open wounds and fluid filled up and squeezed his lungs. His pierced nerves shot electric currents to his brain that must have been excruciating. On top of that physical pain, he bore the weight of the world. Hell crushed him. Yet, in all this suffering, he was thinking about his mother.
You cannot understand Jesus Christ without understanding his affections for his mother. They say a man dying on a battlefield calls out for mom. Jesus Christ was no less human. Mom was on his heart. She was singled out among all men and women in the world.
“Woman, here is your son.”
At that time in Jewish culture, there was no title more endearing or respectful than ‘woman.’ Today, it resonates with what we mean by saying, “You’re the man.” Yet, “woman” here goes far deeper. Jesus recognizes in Mary the truest spirit of ‘woman.’ She is the ideal woman. She is the woman like the one described in the Book of Proverbs: “A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies…Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all” (Pr. 31:10, 29). After all, Mary is “blessed among all women” (Lk. 1:48). Christ is the second Adam. Mary is the second Eve. She is the woman who said “Yes” to God, and gave birth to a New Kingdom.
“He said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother’.”
This is a further marvel. Even while on the cross, Jesus is preparing the Church. He has told the disciples that they would be the shepherds of the Church. On the rock of their leadership, He would build his Kingdom. Now, he is setting a mother over them. The disciples took care of the Blessed Virgin for the rest of her life. They honored her as their own mother, and she cared for them as her own sons. At her death, an angel promised the disciples that their relationship with Mary would not change. She would remain as a Mother over the Church every step of the way. This has been the belief and experience of all Orthodox Christians from the first century to the 21st century.
Who is the Mother of God? The Scriptures could not exalt her more highly. She is the woman “clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars…[whose] child was caught up unto God, and to his throne (Rev. 12:1, 5). She is “blessed among all women” (Lk. 1:48). She is full of grace, utterly and thoroughly filled with the presence of God (Lk. 1:28). She deserves praise and honor from every generation (Lk. 1:48).
Psalm 45 describes Mary as God’s queen and daughter. The Book of Hebrews sets out by referencing this psalm. It discusses the psalm as an explicit prophecy of Jesus and his throne. “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: the sceptre of thy kingdom is a right scepter” (Ps. 45:6). The psalm goes on to describe Jesus’ heavenly company. At his side is a queen. “Kings' daughters were among thy honourable women: upon thy right hand did stand the queen in gold of Ophir.” She is his queen, and his daughter. “Hearken, O daughter, and consider…So shall the king greatly desire thy beauty: for he is thy Lord; and worship thou him” (v. 10-11). He desires her beauty. She falls down in worship. “The king's daughter is all glorious within: her clothing is of wrought gold” (v. 13). She is pure and righteous. “ She shall be brought unto the king in raiment of needlework: the virgins her companions that follow her shall be brought unto thee…thy children, whom thou mayest make princes in all the earth” (v. 14-17). Following this queen are all her companions, the holy saints, who will reign over the earth. All of this begins that moment on the cross, when Jesus hands Mary over to be our Mother.
So what? What does all this have to do with anything? What do all these scriptures and prophesies say to us? Peter Pan, that magical character in the nursery, asks Wendy about mothers. “What is a mother?” he asks. Wendy replies, “Why, Peter, a mother’s someone who loves and cares for you and tells you stories…a mother, a real mother, is the most wonderful person in the world. She’s the angel voice that bids you goodnight, kisses your cheek, whispers ‘sleep tight.’” This is why all this matters. This is why we honor Mary and celebrate our feast today with such vigor. This is what it means that Mary is God’s Mother, and the Church’s Mother.
Today, in specific, we are remembering the sorrows of the Blessed Virgin. When Mary first brought the Christ child to the temple, Simeon prophesied: “A sword will pierce your soul” (Lk. 2:35). That prophecy came true when Mary stood and looked up at the cross. Her son, the perfect son, was hung on a tree. She wept for her child, as all mothers have wept for theirs. What does this mean? It means we are never alone in our grief. God values our tears as He valued the tears of his mother. Jesus Christ has come to restore all that we are, even our most human feelings and sadness.
Yet, Christ did not leave Mary alone to her tears. He conquered death and ascended into heaven. Mary’s tears were transformed into joy in the dawn of the resurrection. In the same manner, all our tears are cherished by God. All our losses are witnessed in heaven, and our sadness here will turn to joy there. Mary’s tears will forever remind us that our tears are not forgotten. We too will be gathered up to paradise, where there will be no more weeping, and no more sorrow.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.