The Sixth Sorrow: Mary Receives the Dead body of Jesus
Matthew: 27: 57-61
“When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea named Joseph, who was a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be handed over. Taking the body, Joseph wrapped it in clean linen and laid it in the tomb that he had hewn in rock. Then he rolled a huge stone across the entrance to the tomb and departed. But Mary Magdala and the other Mary remained sitting there, facing the tomb.”
As I look upon the image of the Pieta in silence with Mary, there are no words to express the grief, loss and sorrow that her heart is experiencing as she holds the tortured body of her son in her arms. At that moment, the words spoken to her by Simeon thirty some years ago, in the temple, must have spoken loudly in her heart. That her child would be a sign that will be opposed by so many and that a sword would pierce her own heart.
The Pieta is a powerful expression of love, life, death and hope. Pieta means loyalty and devotion. Both Mary’s strength and immense love are portrayed through the face and posture that Michelangelo gives her. In the Pieta, Mary has large, broad shoulders and a wide, generous lap on which the dead body of her son rests. The Pieta is a powerful reminder of how much strength love can have and how much pain it can evoke. The Pieta is a strong image of compassion. The figure of the sorrowful mother reflects all those who weep and grieve as they hold their great loss and pain close to their own hearts.
Most of us here understand the Pieta as a posture of our own hearts, especially when we are tending to others who are suffering grievously. Mary receiving the dead body of her son is every parent, of any age, who has suffered the loss of a child. There are many images of the reality of the Pieta happening in our world today. Those whom Mary stands with as they receive the tortured bodies and/or distorted bodies of their loved ones due to bombings and useless killings, or the ravages of an illness that drains away the life of the person they love.
An important aspect of this sixth sorrow is that Mary receives the dead body of Jesus in her arms. Everything she had known and cherished about her son, all the love they had shared, the trials and tribulations they had experienced, each hope and dream she had for him, all this Mary held on her sorrowing lap. Suffering is a mystery that we will never fully understand. The Jesus of the Pieta is each suffering person who enters our lives.
When I was in my late thirties, I was asked by my community leadership to be the Coordinator of our Motherhouse. Now I knew nothing about health care. I was a first-grade teacher. However, we had a wonderful R.N. who helped me to learn the ropes.
I remember so clearly the first time I was with one of our sisters as she died. Her name was Sister Francisca. She was unable to speak but understood every word you said to her. The night she died I was with her. It was an experience I will never forget. Once sister stopped breathing I was so aware that she was no longer present in that room. The essence of Sister Francisca was no longer in the room with me. Her Spirit had moved on.
I had the privilege over five years to walk with many of my sisters in community as they prepared to make their final journey home. Some I knew well and some I didn’t know until they had return home to die. One of the women I cared for was Sr. Emily Palmer. Emily had been married before she entered the community and at the time of her death she had three grown daughters. Emily stayed with her daughters in Florida until the doctor told her if she wanted to return to our motherhouse before she died she would have to go soon.
I will never forget the night I went to pick up Emily and her daughters at the airport. We transported her to the motherhouse in a van by wheelchair. As we pulled up to our back door, I looked up at the window on the second floor where our healthcare wing was set up. I could see someone looking out the window. I knew it was Sister Ligouri who also was living with cancer. She and Emily were good friends. When we got off the elevator to the second floor, there stood Ligouri bent over holding onto her walker waiting to see her friend.
It was one of the most sacred encounters I have ever experienced. Both sisters met each other eye to eye and heart to heart. Ligouri leaned over and said, “Welcome home my friend.” They both just held each other’s hands for a few moments in silence.
When we hold the suffering of our loved ones in our lap of compassion, we can put our own agendas aside and receive them as they are.
In her book, Your Sorrow is My Sorrow, Sr. Joyce Rupp, OSM states: “Compassion requires that we allow the lap of our life to hold the suffering of others. We can do this only if we act from a center of love deep within ourselves. The Pieta is an intensely vivid reminder of how much strength this love has and how much power this love gives to do what needs to be done.”
May we receive those who come into our lives and are suffering with compassion and love.
By Sr. Kerry Larkin, OSM