Hear our voice, O Lord, according to your faithful love.
Yurii Nagulko, "Winter Solstice", 1984.
Страдальна Мати / The Sorrowful Mother. Ukrainian Lenten Hymn. Vydubychi Church Chorus.
Скорбная мати під хрестом стояла
Гірко ридала в слозах промовляла
Ой сину, сину, за яку провину
Переносиш нині тяжкую годину
Я тебе купала дрібними сльозами,
Як малим ховала перед ворогами,
А нині плачу, бо тебе вже трачу,
Вже тебе, мій сину, більше не побачу
Моя опоро, мій ти світе ясний
Гаснеш заскоро, в'янеш перечасно,
А що зі мною стане, сиротою,
Я сама на світі, як билина стою
Мій Боже милий, усердно тя молю
Подай мені сили у нещаснім болю.
Тебе благаю, як сама лиш знаю
І тобі десь сина мого доручаю
Beneath the cross there stood a mother crying,
Shedding tears of sorrow while her Son was dying:
Oh Son, my Son, for what great transgression
Must You bear this trying hour of oppression
On the cross?
With my bitter tears how lovingly I bathed You
When You were a mere child, from what foes I saved You:
But now You leave me and my heart so grieves me,
For my dearest Son, no longer will I see Thee.
Oh my Son!
You are my support, my world’s brilliant light,
Fading much too early, withering from sight,
What becomes of me now, a lonely orphan,
I'm alone in this world, as a blade of grass I stand,
By the cross
Oh my God, most gracious, hear my supplication:
Grant to me the strength to bear this tribulation.
This I implore You, how much only I know,
As I offer You my Son who is reviled so,
On the cross.
from: Rowan Williams, “Sinners.” In Joan Chittister and Rowan Williams. Uncommon Gratitude: Alleluia for All That Is. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2014. (Continued from Day 33, yesterday.)
It’s not that I suddenly get to hate myself or doubt my worth—indeed I may have a stronger sense of worth because of this. I just know that my frame of reference is put rather harshly in perspective when it’s brought into the light of a greater imagination.
This is actually rather obvious when you think about it. If our world of suspicion and smallness were never interrupted, we’d never have reason for thinking it wasn’t the whole story. We could live securely—if not very happily—in our version of reality if the truth didn’t leak in from time to time, whether through someone’s life or a work of art, or just (for many people) the experience of solitude and silence, when we can’t avoid the sense of bad fit with the truth. The good sinner, or what I called the uncommitted sinner, lives in a world she knows to be leaky; something unsettling is always finding its way in.
This helps a bit in seeing how Jesus makes a difference in the Gospel stories to the world around him. When he’s there, people see themselves differently. Remember Peter, when Jesus has told him where he can ﬁnd a miraculous catch of ﬁsh? He simply says, “You need to be away from me, sir, because I’m a sinner.” Miraculous generosity is there in front of him—and all he is sure of is that this isn’t the climate in which he lives. Only Jesus is quite clear that it’s time he started. The same with Zacchaeus, the little tax collector who climbs the tree to see Jesus, hoping he won’t be noticed. When Jesus stops and turns his face upwards to look at him, he doesn’t say, “You’re a sinner, you need to change your ways.” He doesn’t need to. He just invites himself to Zacchaeus’s home and Zacchaeus at once says, “I’ll have to be different.”
Peter and Zacchaeus are seeing for the first time an authentically human face, one that isn’t distorted by fear of God or other people. And that’s all that’s needed. If there can be a face like that in the world, just the one, the world I know is too small. So every time Peter or Zacchaeus or you or I say, “I’m a sinner,” we’re reminding ourselves of the glimpse given through Jesus of the real world we’d never have dreamt of, left to ourselves. A pretty good reason for an alleluia.
Because this recognition of being a sinner carries with it the confidence that there really is a way out. From our point of view, it’s a slow process, full of frustration, two steps forward, one step back, fresh illusions and so on. But the point is that God has thought it worthwhile to interrupt directly—to show us what the scale of our problem is and to offer a relationship that will hold us, however shakily from our side, in the truth. Christians have spent a fair bit of energy trying to sort out exactly how this works; they know it is rooted in the death of Jesus, the moment when the world’s preference for unreality seems to win decisively, yet also the moment when God’s truth is in fact the winner—but they haven’t found one simple way of explaining it. That’s all right. The alleluias come ﬁrst. Alleluia for the interrupted life that mercifully lets me know I’m wrong and that my wrongness can be dealt with; for the tearing of a veil and the vision of a landscape.
May God our Redeemer show us compassion and love. Amen.