Giving birth during Lent is a special grace. Very physically connected to the passion of Christ, His "being transfixed with pain" is a familiar phrase to a woman who recently gave birth. But then, "Where is your victory, o Hades?" In birth, as in Christ's death, death loses, life wins, and pain is redemptive, rather than destructive. Nothing in my lifetime has been a better description of giving birth than the phrase "and to those in the grave, He granted life". Those last moments of labor are certainly like being in a grave, a tunnel, a dark, lonely isolated time. But then LIGHT! JOY! NEW LIFE! Christ is risen from the dead!
I was, however, able to attend church last night, for the twelve Gospels. These Gospel readings recount the passion and death of Our Lord, interspersed with other prayers and litanies. Every year, there is one prayer that brings me to tears; this year was no exception. My memory of past Holy Weeks was fuzzy, and I couldn't remember if I had already missed this prayer. I was sitting in the empty choir loft, so I could nurse the baby and still hear and pray. Our priest had just made his return to church, although he isn't fully recovered. But he came out of the iconostas, turned to the icon of The Theotokos, and in a very mournful and beautiful voice, began to sing. The cantors quickly joined in with an eason, which is a low, deep droning that follows along the melody, but underneath it all. I got shivers and then tears.
As she saw her own Lamb being dragged to slaughter Mary, the Ewe-lamb, worn out with grief, followed with other women, crying out, ‘Where are you going, my child? For whose sake are you completing the course so fast? Is there once again another wedding in Cana? And are you hurrying there now to make wine for them from water? Should I go with you, my child, or rather wait for you? Give me a word, O Word; do not pass me by in silence, you who kept me pure, My Son and my God.’
(FYI, the twelve Gospel reading are as follows:
John 13: 31 to 18:1
John 18: 1-28 (Arrest of Jesus in the garden of Olives)
Matthew 26: 57-75 (Jesus before the Sanhedrin and Peter disowns Jesus)
John 18:28 to 19: 16 (Jesus before Pilate and Jesus crucified)
Matthew 27: 3-32 (Death of Judas and Jesus before Pilate and the way of the Cross)
Mark 15: 16-32 (Jesus is crowned with thorns and crucified)
Matthew 27: 33-54 (The way of the Cross)
Luke 23: 32-49 (The way of Calvery)
John 19: 25-37 (Jesus' last words and Jesus is pierced)
Mark 15: 43-47 (Burial of Jesus)
John 19: 38-42
Matthew 27: 62-66 (The guards at the tomb)