Love Stands By
What was that Saturday morning like for Mary? Just yesterday, she stood by at the foot of His cross, unable to take Him in her arms as she did when he was a small boy. To brush his locks of hair from his sweaty brow and offer him a drink like she did when he was a young man, working as a carpenter in Joseph’s shop. He looked at her, she looked at him. It reminded her of their first look so long ago in that stable in Bethlehem when He was born and she wrapped Him in swaddling cloths and laid Him in a rough-hewn manger. Now they looked at each other as he was stretched out on a rough-hewn cross, soon to be wrapped in burial cloths and laid in a cold, dark tomb. But these two looks held eternity… and then he gave her the next phase of her mission, her motherhood: “Behold your son.” And with that, she went to live with John in his house.
And that is where she starts her day. In John’s house, her heart throbbing from the sword which pierced it, yet she still stands. Not by her own strength, no that would not be possible. But by the strength she was given in knowing God, knowing herself. “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done unto me…”
The day is quiet. It is the Sabbath and no work is to be done. No activities to distract from the pain and grief, no noise to drown out the sorrowing heart. Perhaps the disciples began to wander in throughout the day, one by one, in shock, grief, guilt. Their friend, their Lord was arrested, tortured and killed. And they fled. They abandoned Him. The one who had taught them, treated them with compassion, loved them. They come to Mary and fall into her arms. No words can be spoken. They aren’t needed. In moments such as this, heart speaks to heart in silence. Nothing to do but simply rest and be. “…By waiting and by calm you shall be saved, in quiet and in trust your strength lies” (Isaiah 30:15).
We have a hard time with that. We crave work, busyness, activity. We are surrounded by visual and aural noise: radios, televisions, internet…and when we do have rare moments of quiet, all this noise rises up in our hearts and heads. When we face pain, whether in ourselves or with someone we care about, we seek distractions and we want to have just the right words to take away the pain. When we feel inadequate or powerless to the task, we seek escape. But compassion does not first consist in taking away the pain with the right activity or the right words. It first consists in simply being with someone in the midst of their pain – to hold them, cry with them, open our hearts to them. We can only do that if we are honest and grounded in the truth of ourselves, as Mary was. Only then can we remain standing by.
As Jesus sleeps in His tomb, we gather with Mary in dark faith and wait for what God shall do. “Why so downcast, O my soul? Why groan within me? Hope in God, I shall praise Him still, my Savior and my God.” For God is always at work. Jesus Himself said a seed must be buried in the soil in order to grow into a plant and bear abundant fruit. And on this day, while His body appears to be sleeping and the world waits in silent grief, He has continued His descent to the underworld, to proclaim the Good News to those who had died before His time and had remained shut out from Paradise. Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Jacob, Job, David, the prophets and all the just. They too have been waiting, hoping, crying out to God for a Savior to open up the gates of heaven. And so in death, He descends and breaks the bars of the prison to sets the captives of death free. “O gates, lift high your heads, grow higher ancient doors, let Him enter, the King of Glory!” And though His presence was only in the place of the just, the power of His presence is felt throughout the darkest reaches of hell and it trembles.
Something to ponder…
As the disciples of Jesus gathered together, we too will gather together tonight to wait in vigil. The disciples had gathered in fear of the Jews to await their fate. We gather in hope and joy to await the resurrection of Jesus. Yet too often, we get caught up in the activity of the liturgy and we miss the opportunity to really go deeper into it and the mysteries it contains and expresses. It is also this night when we receive new brothers and sisters in Christ through their baptism, we are united with separated Christian brothers and sisters as they enter into full communion with the Church, and we renew our baptismal promises. These are the most important promises we make in our life.
To prepare for this night, spend some time today slowly reading and meditating on the liturgy text - you can find it in a missal, missallette (such as Magnificat or Living with Christ), or through an app or online. It is so long and rich, pick one part to really focus on, perhaps the Lucernarium, the Exultet, one of the readings and/or a responsorial psalm, or the Renewal of Baptismal Promises.