February 6, 2015 Length: 9:11
Every experience of sorrow in our lives could be suffering without meaning but if we have the grace to lay aside self-pity, blame and anger then we shall find in the heart of our suffering God a true hope, and yes even a meaning which in the love of God is the source of a robust wisdom.
From the Gospel this morning: (Luke 2:34-35)
34 Then Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against 35 (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
Let us speak of the sorrows of Mary, the Theotokos, the one who brought salvation to us. Here in the gospel St Simeon prophesises that the Mother of God, the Panagia, all-holy Mary will suffer on account of her Son. The sword that pierces her heart will be sharp, truly wounding but it will also be the means by which both she and the Church acquire the Wisdom of God. There are, therefore, two meditations we should make on the basis of this prophecy, one concerning the sorrows of love wounded, the other concerning the wisdom of love triumphant. Both sorrow and wisdom come to fruition respectively at the foot of the cross and at the empty tomb. Our Lady with St John stand by the cross through the tortuous hours of Christ’s agony and eventual death but they with the other apostles will also stand in the upper room to receive the risen Christ. It is the Orthodox faith that sorrow and joy, suffering and wisdom are not alien to one another.
Every experience of sorrow in our lives could be suffering without meaning but if we have the grace to lay aside self-pity, blame and anger then we shall find in the heart of our suffering God a true hope, and yes even a meaning which in the love of God is the source of a robust wisdom. As the gospel says the sword of suffering will impart wisdom to those who seek it, wisdom that will enable them to discover what is true and good and has potential for growth not only in ourselves but in the lives of others, (that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed). We also may find healing by the action of this sharp sword in the hands of Christ. The poet T.S. Eliot spoke of Our Lord, Himself wounded, healing with this blade:
The wounded surgeon plies the steel, | That questions the distempered part; | Beneath the bleeding hands we feel | The sharp compassion of the healer’s art …
The choice, however, is always ours; whether or not we shall find that pearl in the oyster, a beautiful thing crafted from pain, whether we will yield to the soul surgery of the Great Physician. We can resist the lessons that life has to teach. We can refuse the healing action of God in our lives. We can refuse to repent and blame others and God for our lot. But these choices bring only despair, isolation and death. Rather instead let us choose with the Mother of God by standing with her, sharing her sorrow, at the foot of the cross of her Son from whence all healing flows.
Wisdom also comes to us at the opening to the empty tomb. “He is not here” as the angel said to the women (Matthew 28:6). The piercing of the sword of sorrow brings to the Theotokos not suffering but rather clarity and depth in seeing events as God sees them. There is one other major reference in the New Testament to this kind of sword-like action, a teaching concerning the Word of God. In Hebrews we read:-
For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)
Notice the similarity to St Simeon’s prophecy. Albeit sharper than any sword, the word of God both pierces and reveals the inward lives of men and women, of you and me. In Ephesians 6:17 St Paul refers to the word of God as the sword of the Spirit so we might have a more rounded understanding of this in a Trinitarian manner if we affirmed that the sword of discernment comes through both Christ who is the wisdom and power of God (1 Corinthians 1:24) and the Holy Spirit who both enlightens and energises our lives (1 Corinthians 2:10-13).
Now the indwelling of Christ and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit only becomes possible in their fullness once sorrow, suffering and even death have been overcome. Both the empty tomb from which Christ was raised and the new upper room of Pentecost where the Spirit was outpoured are armouries where our spiritual swords of discernment may be sharpened by the wisdom and power of God.
Once again, however, the choice lies with us. Do we want this empowerment, this wisdom or are we content to settle back and exchange the power and vitality of Christian living for a weak and insipid substitute, which we might characterise “as trying to be good” but utterly failing time after time because this is a graceless and human centred thing, unable to save.
The ever-Virgin Mary had her sorrows at the foot of the cross and learnt much from sharing in the sufferings of her Son. This sword of sorrow as we have seen can also become a sword of wisdom for each one of us so we might start by asking her to show us how she did it and indeed how she does it still. However, she was also with the apostles in Jerusalem at the Resurrection, with them on the Mount at the Ascension and with them at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came. Here the sword of God becomes for us a blade of hope, and exquisite instrument of healing, a division of evil from good, of darkness from light.
This is why we celebrate at Candlemass, on the Feast of the Meeting of our Lord and the Purification of His Blessed Mother, His Light, that is the Light of Christ coming, to scatter our darkness. This is a Light both to enlighten the Gentiles and to be the glory of the people of Israel. Therefore, through the sufferings of the cross and the joy of the resurrection may we all receive this True Light and with it, the Wisdom of God, a veritable two edged sword of both blood and gold, piercing our hearts with God’s healing and truth.