I watched as my fellow village women gathered around my mother as she cried her heart out while the pallbearers carried the body of my late sister to the grave site. I said, 'Lord, do you not see this? Has my mother not suffered enough; six of her children now to the earth, plus the husband, does she have to go through this?' And the Spirit of God rebuked me saying, 'Only I know what your mother is able to endure.'
The Spirit spoke to me about a woman in the Bible we can all learn from when it comes to grieving for a loved one. That woman is Mary the mother of Jesus.
She experienced pain at the deepest level we can all imagine. When she gave birth to her little boy Jesus, as per the Hebrew tradition she took him to the Temple for dedication. While the Priest was performing the dedication rites accompanied by the necessary words, he also threw in a very disturbing word, something no mother wants to hear. The Priest said to Mary, "Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against; (and yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also); that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed." Luke 2:34-35
What strong words to say to a young mother who just had her first child! But for Mary this was not the first time that she had been spoken to in such a manner. About two years ago she had been minding her own business when an angel appeared before her and saluted her with these words, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you". Luke 1:28 The Bible goes on to say that Mary was perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of a salutation this was.
But the angel reassured her, "Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end". Luke 1:30-33
Mary was worried about becoming pregnant; because as a virgin betrothed to a young man named Joseph, she was patiently waiting for her wedding day.
This time the angel did not reassure her saying; "Do not worry the baby will come nine months after your wedding night!"
The angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the Holy Child shall be called the Son of God". Luke 1:35
I went to Bible College at a late age. At the end of every semester exam I would come out with my head throbbing and blood pressure high. It never got better, even at the end of the very last semester, after four years of studying. Hence I can empathize with Mary. The more she tried to understand her predicament, the more perplexed she became.
But by the grace of God; I succeeded in attaining my Diploma in Pastoral Studies. Mary also overcame her fear and ran to her relative Elizabeth where a miracle was in the making through the birth of John. For the angel had said to Mary, "And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month...For nothing is impossible with God". (Luke 1:26-37)
The Holy Spirit overshadowed her as promised and Mary gave birth to her little boy, Jesus. At the appointed time she took the boy to the Temple for dedication. That is where we meet her today as the story of her life unfolds. With the help of her carpenter husband, Joseph, she raises her son.
Other than working in the carpentry business like his father, Jesus took a keen interest in his Jewish religion and soon became a keen student at the Temple courts. At the age of thirty he became one of the most sought after evangelists. He was a great Teacher and miracles portraying the power of the Holy Spirit were evident.
Many were his teachings, and many people received salvation into the Kingdom of God. Many were also healed from all kinds of diseases and afflictions.
But as this Teacher, Jesus the son of Mary, became more and more popular so did those who opposed his teachings. His teachings conflicted with their religious values. Their hatred of him grew by the day, until finally they decided to kill him.
So we find the prophecy given to Mary by the Priest Simeon in Luke 2:34-35 coming to fulfillment. Mary's heart was about to be pierced.
They came for Jesus on the night soon after the Passover as he prayed in the garden of Gethsemane at the Mount of Olives. They knew he would be there that night as it was his custom to go there and pray.
After seizing him they took him to Pilate for a well rehearsed trial. They found him guilty, even though he was not. He was condemned to die by hanging on a cross. They beat him up, severely, spit on him, mocked him, called him all kind of names and then put a heavy wooden cross on his bruised back and made him carry it Mount of Golgotha.
Where was Jesus' mother while all this happening? At home; unaware of the rubble? Away visiting relatives? No, she was right there in the midst of the mass of onlookers watching her son, the Great Teacher, suffer. With every blow they struck him, Mary's heart was being pierced; her insides were being shredded to pieces. I have seen pictures of lynching on television; they are horrific. Mary had to endure that; but the worst was yet to come.
When they got to Golgotha they laid his body against the cross and drove long heavy nails right through his hands and feet into the cross. Then they lifted him on the cross for the whole community to see; and thus they hung him. Mary was there at his feet, barely able to look up at the tortured frame of her son; the son that God had given her. The son who had performed so many miracles in the short three years he had evangelized the country of Judea. The son who was not just hers and Joseph’s; but who was in reality the Son of God.
He had the power and authority to call down angels to come and stop this horrific torture before him but did not. Everything that was happening had to happen because this was the will of his Father in heaven for him. He had to die for the sins of the world; that we all humanity would be forgiven because of his precious blood shed on the cross at Calvary for us.
Did Mary know this? Probably; but that did not take away the sharpness of the pain she was feeling. So Jesus beckoned her close so he could make eye contact. Then he also called John, the disciple he loved very much. To both he whispered, 'Woman, here is your son and son here is your mother'. John 19:26-27. Why; because John was the closest of the disciples to Jesus. Over the years Jesus had shared his deepest thoughts with his mother and his closest disciple. In that darkest hour he was reassuring them that both would be able to comfort and give each other strength.
Then his crucifiers took a crown of thorns and shoved it on his head, making his head bleed. Then they took a sharp spear and drove it through the side of his belly; both water and blood oozed out. John had to hold Mary tight lest she collapsed at the weight of her son's imminent death. Then Jesus died. Thirty three years of his life on earth as Mary's son had suddenly come to an end.
What would you say about that? If you were Mary where would go with that anguish and pain? To the Cross of Calvary.
God has not spared us from the pain of losing a loved one to death. He did not spare Mary, the mother of His own dear Son. But in whatever He has allowed us to endure, He has also given us strength through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in us.
On our own we are frail and weak, but because of the Holy Spirit in us we are comforted, strengthened and able to stand the storm. The Holy Spirit will reveal the Word of God and give us hope despite the bleakness of our circumstances.
Three days after Jesus was buried, Mary and the other women in Jesus' life went early to the grave site. With spices in their hands what did they expect to find at the tomb? Luke 24. Mary remembered snippets of the conversations she had had with Jesus; that on the third day he would rise from the dead.
Women have had it hard right from child birth. But the same God who is able to sustain the woman through childbirth is also able to sustain her through grief and pain. He will never leave her nor forsake her, for He is the same God yesterday, today and forever. (Hebrews 13:5b, 8)
When we pass through the valley of Baca (Weeping) we make it a spring of Joy. Psalm 84:5-7, “Blessed are those whose strength is in you (Lord), who have set their hearts on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion”.
Yes, you can smile even in the midst of grief; especially when God brings a wonderful memory about your loved one. That is how healing begins.
My mother is strong today because she believes in God. She has faith that someday in heaven she will be reunited with her husband and children. He who began a good work in us will bring it to completion.(Philippians 1:6)
Woman, your grief and pain does not mark the end of your life. The devil has not won. Trust God and He will give you the peace and strength you did not know was in you. He will keep her in perfect peace she whose mind is steadfast, because she trusts in Him. (Isaiah 26: 3)
Job, at the tragic death of all his children said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” (Job 1:21)
King David at the illness and death of his son said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live. But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.” (2 Samuel 12:22-23)
Jesus to Martha and Mary when Lazarus died said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die”. (John 11:25-26) Even though we will die in the flesh our soul will live with Christ eternally.
Finally, we have a promise in Rev 21:3-4 that there will come a time when every tear will be wiped away. ‘And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
No more tears, no more grief, no more pain. Praise the Lord!