It is not uncommon for bereaved parents to be angry with God because of the pain that they are enduring. That is expected and understandable. Even God understands the pain of losing a child, although we have to admit His loss is a bit different. He has a different perspective, doesn’t He?
On this past Mother’s Day one of our deacons gave an excellent communion meditation about Mary observing the death of her son on the cross. Maybe some of you have watched your sons or daughters suffer before finally passing away due to disease or accident or some other cause. You can identify with Mary in some ways.
But what would Mary say to a bereaved parent? Of course I cannot say for sure, because there are actually very few words of Mary in the Bible. I wonder if we could take those sayings and understand her perspective on life and life as the mother of the Messiah?
The truth is that Mary lived with the impending death of her son for a long time. He didn’t keep it a secret that he was going to Jerusalem to die for the sins of the world. Although that message never seemed to connect with the disciples until it happened, I wonder if Mary did understand? What might she say to a bereaved parent?
Trust God when it is painful. When Mary was told that she was going to bear the Christ-child, she said:
“I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” Luke 1:38
I’m not sure, but I have the feeling that this was Mary’s perspective throughout the challenging moments of the life of Jesus. She regarded her life as belonging to God and she trusted Him, even through her pain. When we lose a child it feels like God forgot about us or, worse, hates us. If we are to turn away from Him, where will we go? Remembering that God is intently observant and hurts along with us gives us the courage to hang on to Him, even if it seems difficult to do so. Do you think it was hard for Mary to trust God while she wept at the foot of the cross? God understands that.
Trust God and remember His promises. In Luke 1:46-55 there is recorded the Magnificat … the song of Mary upon her visit with Elizabeth. In the closing refrain of that song she sang:
He has helped his servant Israel and remembered to be merciful. For he made this promise to our ancestors, to Abraham and his children forever.” Luke 1:54, 55
Embedded in that promise made to the family of God was the suffering and death of a Messiah. Mary would have been very familiar with Isaiah 53, the suffering servant. Sometimes we think God has promised long and healthy lives for all of us, especially our children. That’s not a promise of God, it is a parent’s deepest hope. But God has promised something better – an eternal hope for those who will follow Him. I wonder if during this celebration song there wasn’t a fleeting dread of the future in Mary’s heart?
Trust God when you are afraid. Lest we think Mary to be like some of her portraits … stoic and glowing … there was a time when she was afraid that she had lost Jesus as a boy.
…“Son,” his mother said to him, “why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been frantic, searching for you everywhere.” Luke 2:48
Every parent knows that feeling. Mary was not perfect, the Bible nowhere claims that she was free from mistakes or shortcomings. When frightened she frantically searched for her son. The death of a child brings to the surface so many emotions…and fear can be one of them. Once the worst thing that could ever happen has happened… what’s next? This fear can find its way into our dreams and our anxieties. At the cross do you think Mary had some fear at the way her son was mistreated and the crowd around her was so brutal?
The only other words we have from Mary are a few phrases in John 2. Given the portrait we have of her in these settings from Luke, I wonder if Mary would say to a bereaved parent … perhaps sometime later in her life after Jesus died… Trust God, friend …
When it is painful …
When you wonder if He will keep his promises …
When you are afraid…
I don’t think that’s too big of a stretch. And actually those are things I needed to remember when I first started this journey of being a bereaved parent. Maybe it will help us to remember that the mother of Jesus was someone who lost a son. I know, it’s different in some ways. But don’t ever think that Mary didn’t miss that boy … late at night … after he ascended to the Father … as she looked up into a Palestinian star-lit sky. She would have liked to have held his face in her hands one more time and looked into his eyes. And so she has.
In your pain, listen to the voice of Mary whispering from ages ago.
Thanks for reading, John.