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Sitting Shiva on the Day of Tears

Matthew's gospel on the Day of Tears (aka Good Friday) leaves us with Mary of Magdala, and “the other Mary” sitting there facing the tomb after all others have left. I wonder if this was perhaps the beginning of sitting shiva (a traditional 7 day mourning period for Jews) for their friend, companion, and teacher.

We’ve all been there. We’ve been the last ones at the grave, the last ones to say good-bye.  Turning away from that grave, or leaving the church, or funeral home, or memorial luncheon, somehow means we’re supposed to move on, and we’re not ready. Our wonderful, modern culture (please note the sarcasm) doesn’t like to allow us space to grieve. Pick yourself up by your bootstraps, keep moving, don’t cry, life goes on, aren’t you over it, yet? But it just isn’t that easy. So, we pretend we’re fine. We go back to work, we do the things we have to do, but our hearts aren’t in it.

That time immediately following death is an in-between space, it is a gap between the way things used to be and the way things will someday be. It is a place of not knowing what happens next, where there are no answers, and it feels like there is no real hope that anything will ever be right again, there will be life again. One may be filled with a wide range of feelings in the gap: heaviness, fear, despair, sorrow, anger, frustration, hopelessness, confusion, fogginess, emptiness, broken-heartedness. Even our faith can feel shattered. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

The wisdom of a practice like sitting shiva is that you have permission to feel all these things and you are surrounded by people to help you do that.

In the crucifixion Jesus experienced all the worst that humanity has to offer – betrayal, pain, humiliation, shame, injustice, fear, sorrow, failure, feeling distanced from God. He was vulnerable, powerless, exposed, isolated, bullied.

On the Day of Tears we sit shiva, holding a safe, understanding, compassionate space for mourning, not just for Jesus, but for ourselves and for all people who have experienced these painful things. Because they still happen in so many ways.  The metaphorical crucifixion of people still happens and we are all witnesses to it or victims of it.

The Day of Tears calls us to hear the story once again, to gaze upon the crucified Christ and, in the words of Richard Rohr, “to soften our hearts toward all suffering,” including ourselves, “and to know that God’s heart has always been softened toward us.” Our God is not one of punishment, violence and anger, but one of compassion, understanding and forgiveness.

The Day of Tears also asks us recognize and feel the pain of the world, that has become so commonplace and normalized that we’re almost immune to it. It is for lamenting and for releasing our tears to let them cleanse us and begin to heal our souls. Yes, this leaves us vulnerable, but being vulnerable is the only way to have meaning in our lives, because it means we have been authentic for a few moments.

I don’t really like to leave us on a down note, but sometimes life leaves us on a down note. The Day of Tears leaves us stunned and empty with the two Marys next to the tomb. We’re left with our tears and our grief - not only for Jesus, but for all people everywhere, including ourselves. We are left sitting shiva…