Friday, May 19, 2017

When God is Pierced by Grief

Luke 2.27-35
Simeon is the sort of purveyor of doom and gloom whom we can well do without when we’re celebrating something good, like a new birth or a christening, because he’s likely to spoil our mood. Mary and Joseph were feeling happy and optimistic because they were dedicating their firstborn son to God in the Temple, and at first Simeon made them feel even better when he told them that their son was destined to be a guiding light, pointing all the nations of the world to God’s way for them. It’s amazing stuff. But then he spoilt it all by revealing that, from his perspective, the glass was only half full and a lot of emptiness remained. And it was an emptiness filled not just with uncertainty, but with rejection, denial, pain and suffering.
The definition of a parent is someone who worries about their children. The columnist Gaby Hinsliffe said that after the suicide bombing at the Manchester Arena 'all parents were reminded of the never-ending dread of losing a child.' And that goes for grandparents to! She wrote, 'To love is to fear, and that is what I never really grasped before parenthood... Having children is one long process of daring yourself to let go' because you know that 'they need to make their own way in the world... To love is to fear but learn not to show it.'
When a couple are expecting a baby they often say, ‘We can’t wait for the baby to be here, then we’ll  be able to stop worrying.’ Ha, ha! As if that’s going to happen! They will worry about their children until their dying day, and - if they grow to adulthood - they’ll still be worrying about their children long after the children have started to worry about them as well.
Simeon’s prophecy was included in the Gospel because the early Christians felt it revealed something about Mary, how her soul had been pierced to the quick by the sword of grief when her eldest son was rejected. When a parent grieves, they grieve forever. The wound is always fresh. However, she came to terms with her grief sufficiently to turn from being one of the first opponents of Jesus’ ministry to becoming part of the inner circle of his most committed supporters.
I think the other reason why Luke included this unsettling story is because it reveals something about the nature of God, for God is Jesus’ parent too. Much is often made, in traditional theories about the Cross, of the need for God’s wrath about human sinfulness to be satisfied or dealt with in some way. God is bound to feel wrathful about a lot of what goes on in human society - things like the abuse of power, especially when that power is used to hurt innocent victims, or the careless damage we do to the planet, and so on. These things hurt him deeply and cause him great offence. He is also pierced by the sword of grief whenever people suffer and the world is harmed, and - like Mary - he was pierced by grief when Jesus was rejected and killed.
Through Jesus people were able to see with their own eyes what God was doing to save the human race and the world in which we live. He was a light for all nations and to some people this was the gift of peace. But it brought out darkness and rejection in others. So what should have been a cause for rejoicing brought grief instead.
Of course, because - like Simeon - God can see into the future, what happened to Jesus on the Cross can hardly have surprised him, but nonetheless it must have disappointed and dismayed him. Grief still comes as a shock and hurts us profoundly, even when we know that someone we love is about to die.
When we are pierced by grief God grieves too. And when we plumb the depths of grief we can know that he has grieved before us and understands how we feel. God is not aloof and untouched by suffering and harm, he experiences it with us. He too has had to dare himself to let go of a creation that he loves so that we can learn to make our own way in the world with his help.

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