Simeon said to Mary, ‘This child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel – and a sword will pierce your own soul too’ – Lk 2:34, 35
On the wall above my desk hangs a small picture of a lady, hands clasped in prayer, with not one but 7 swords piercing her; an obvious, if stylised reference to Simeon’s words to Mary. The original, which hangs in Aachen Cathedral, has a particular resonance for me. The detail is for another day, suffice to say that when I first saw it, many years ago, it helped me let go of a painful experience.
This child, Jesus, is the one God is sending to save not just Israel, but the wider world ‘All people; Gentiles and Israel’. This is a joyful prospect. However, before we lose ourselves in the crowd, we need to hear that salvation comes at a cost; Mary, your soul will be pierced’. We are at the start of a painfully challenging journey, not just for Jesus, but for his mother too. Mary will be pierced to the core.
Letting go begins at birth. The severing of the cord is an essential act of separation; without it, life will not flourish. Mary has safely given birth, yet even as she and Joseph try to relax a little, they, and we, are warned that their child’s path to achieving great things will be a painful one. We know what lies ahead; especially the agony of the cross and the joy of the resurrection, but Mary doesn’t. For Mary, life will unfold step by step: some steps joyful, others agonisingly painful; all essential on the road to new life. Letting go of Jesus, his steady but inexorable path to the cross, must have been a piercingly painful experience, especially for his mother. Yet to go forward in the resurrection life that follows, she had to let go of that pain.
This, perhaps more than anywhere else, is where we need her help. Letting go of pain can be as challenging as letting go of someone or something we value. In these troubled times, it is a challenge many of us face. Pain does not have to be the end, as Mary’s encounter with Simeon once reminded me.
Rev Philip Payne
31 January 2021
The Pew Sheet for 31st January can be found in Downloads.