Last week, I installed a sequence of interactive Stations of the Cross at St Andrew’s. This afternoon, it came time to take them down, and I realized (not for the first time in my life) that I had not thought this thing all the way through.
The Eighth Station commemorates Jesus’ encounter with the women of Jerusalem, who are weeping and wailing for him.
I think that this story sometimes suffers from our attempts to sanctify the sacred story by sanitizing it. But Jesus’ words to the women are at best a warning; and to a reasonable person, they might even sound bitter. Which, given where he is on his journey, does not seem unreasonable.
So here’s what the Station I installed describes:
“A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breast and wailing for him. But Jesus turned to them and said,
‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For the days are surely coming when they will say,
“Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breast that never nursed.”’”
The women were wailing. They were there to let Jesus know that his passing did not go unnoticed, unmourned, in a community whose leaders had condemned him.
Throughout the Bible, the greatest sorrow of a woman has been not to bear children. Now Jesus speaks of a time so revolutionary and so painful that this will be upended. Blessed will be the women who do not suffer the pain that his mother endures, of seeing their beloved children suffer. Blessed will be the childless. A bitter blessing.
The loss of children before they are born, and the loss of unconceived but hoped-for children, is still difficult to acknowledge and openly grieve in our society. Japan has a memorial ritual for the “water-children,” born from dark into dark, and their statues haunt western visitors. We add our prayers and our monuments to theirs, for the women of Jerusalem, for the women in our lives who suffer invisible loss, and for their children.
Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice. Amen. (Psalm 130:1)
I provided a photo of a memorial to those children born from darkness to darkness, and clay, to encourage the making of our own memorials. I made a small statue for my own “water child.”
At the end of the week, there were ten small memorial statues, each a tiny, half-formed image of someone lost before she or he was known.
In some ways, it would have made sense to return them to the clay – earth to earth – to be formed again next year. But I couldn’t do that. It seemed to undo the very meaning of the memorial: that these were children, beloved of God and of the one who made their image. That they were, and are, and are still mourned.
So I buried them. I took the shovel from Station Two (of which more another time), and buried them by the daffodils. I read a psalm over them, and let them go.
And I thought of Jesus’ warning, or bitter words, and I thought of the bitter tears we shed with him, and he with us, and it made sense. He was weeping with the women, after all, and they with, not only, for him.