The Painting Lamentation of the Virgin by the Rohan Master(Right)
The background shimmers, undulating stars and wings evoking the unseen.
The subject is John’s accusing gaze toward the unresponsive Father. Instead of meeting John’s agony, God looks upon the son. The Father’s torso only partially emerges from the sphere of heaven, his royal orb safely clasped in his left hand, his right hand shading his eyes to better see from so far away. Or, perhaps, the Father’s gesture expresses self-questioning.
However, the mother, both limp and agitated dives toward her son while John’s strong arms inhibit her from touching the bloated, distorted body in full rigor mortis. Her skin is as pale as her son’s, her right hand clenched as Jesus’ hand is clenched, as if she endeavors to draw his death into her own body that he might live. Or, perhaps, to draw her own life toward his body that she might die.
About the Meditations
In this season, the church encourages her people to grieve and grieve deeply. Why suffering exists in the first place is not the point, at least for now. In Holy Week the church provides the time to grieve, to break open our hearts of stone, to allow shattering and crumbling and the necessary softening to receive the sacred gifts only grieving confers. Hearts of flesh, perhaps. A new life, represented by deep and universal compassion.
Blessed Paschaltide, Suzanne
My spirit is overwhelmed within me: my heart within me is desolate.
Antiphon at Lauds, Good Friday
attributed to Daddi, detail (Mary Magdalene) ca,1335, National Gallery of Art
let my heart crack and crumble
O Lord, holy Father, show us what kind of man it is who is hanging for our sakes on the cross, whose suffering causes the rocks themselves to crack and crumble with compassion, whose death brings the dead back to life. Let my heart crack and crumble at the sight of him. Let my soul break apart with compassion for his suffering. Let it be shattered with grief at my sins for which he dies. And finally let is be softened with devoted love for him.
-Bonaventura 1217-74 The Tree of Life ed. Eward Cousins, Classics of Western Christianity, SPCK quoted from 2,000 Years of Prayer, compiled by Michael Counsell
Meditation Two who turn to him in love
Those who have a true devotion to the passion of the Lord must so contemplate Jesus on the cross with the eyes of their heart that they identify themselves with his flesh. Let the earth tremble when its Redeemer is put to death; let the rocks of faithless hearts be split open; and let those who are imprisoned in the sepulchers of their mortality push off the tombstones that imprison them, and leap forth. May signs of our future resurrection appear today in the holy city, that is, the Church of God, and hearts experience that which our bodies will one day undergo.
The victory of the cross is denied to none of the weak: there is no one on earth who cannot be helped by the prayer of Christ. For if his prayer aided those who insisted on raging against him, how much more will it aid those who turn to him in love?
-Leo the Great c.391/400 - 461 from a Sermon
Lamentation of the Virgin, Rohan Master, 1435
Meditation Three forgive them, for they know not...
I would like them to be able to associate this death with so many other equally violent ones allowed to fall into the indifference of anonymity. My life has no more value than any other. Nor any less value. In any case, it has not the innocence of childhood. I have lived long enough to know that I share in the evil which seems, alas, to prevail in the world, and even in that which would strike me blindly. I should like, when the time comes, to have a space of lucidity which would enable me to beg forgiveness of God and of my fellow human beings, and at the same time to forgive with all my heart the one who would strike me down. ... ... In this THANK YOU which is said for everything in my life, from now on, I certainly include you, friends of yesterday and today, and you, O my friends of this place, besides my mother and father, my sisters and brothers and their families, a hundredfold as was promised!
And you too, my last minute friend, who will not know what you are doing, Yes, for you too I say this THANK YOU AND THIS “A-DIEU”-—to commend you to this God in whose face I see yours. And may we find each other, happy “good thieves” in Paradise, if it please God, the Father of us both. . . AMEN!
-excerpts from the Testament of Dom Christian De Cherge, OCSO, written in 1993 and opened in 1996 after he and other members of his community were murdered in Algeria.
The Last Word
Glory be to You, who laid your Cross as a bridge over death, that souls might pass over it from the dwelling of the dead to the dwelling of life!
-Ephraem the Syrian (ca306-373)
Giotto, detail (lamentation)
Gracious God, the comfort of all who sorrow, the strength of all who suffer: Let the cry of those in misery and need come to you, that they may find your mercy present with them in all their afflictions; and give us, we pray, the strength to serve them for the sake of him who suffered for us, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
-Good Friday Liturgy, BCP
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, we pray you to set your passion, cross, and death between your judgment and our souls, now and in the hour of our death. Give mercy and grace to the living; pardon and rest to the dead; to your holy Church peace and concord; and to us sinners everlasting life and glory; for with the Father and the Holy Spirit you live and reign, one God, now and forever. Amen.
-from Good Friday liturgy, BCP
Pelican feeding her young, (right) Aberdeen Beastiary