There is a mother on a hill. Her brow and back are bent like haggard wiry grass on a wild, wet moor. She stands in a dark place with a torn veil at her feet. A cracked stone is beside her, an old tree is before her, thunder clouds boom and billow far above her. She has spent her whole life walking up this hill. Many are behind her, following in her footsteps. Only one is before her.
She has been following him at a discreet distance, for thirty long years. Along the way he hungered but fed thousands, he thirsted but called to others to come to him and drink, he was weary but in him others found rest. And she, behind him, has carried the burden of a care that she cannot share. When he was lost, she could not find him, because she was lost. When she called to him, he did not hear her, because she did not yet have any words. When they crucified him, she could not save him, because she was already dead. Hers was the sacrifice of a mother who must let sacrifices happen. Because she was most blessed, she was most cursed. She was the mother of a God who was born to die.
Though the world rejoiced with her at his birth, so too was it doomed to weep with her at his death.
The torn veil at her feet is crumpled like discarded swaddling blankets or bandages. Veils like these have always existed. She has always seen them. They are the heavy curtains that separate heaven and earth. They are the misty thin, ethereal gauze beyond which voices whisper but cannot be understood. All through his life, the veils in which the world is draped have been fluttering as the mysteries of the otherworld draw near. They fluttered at the wedding when the wine ran dry and only water could be found. They fluttered when the nets were empty and the silver backed sea erupted with the glittering fins of fish. They fluttered for the lepers, the blind, the deaf, the bleeding and the lame. All these years, heaven and earth have been drawing close, contained in him but not yet released. In his life she has seen glimpses of the true shape of things. She has seen glimpses of things un-severed from their purposes and from one another. At his birth she knew that he contained those two worlds as one within him. Distantly, she always knew that for that miracle to be shared, he would have to be broken apart, like new bread from an oven, or a fresh egg taken from the nest, or a lamb wet from the womb, carried down from the hills and up to the city.
How could such a wonder be slaughtered? How could one cut apart the one place where heaven and earth met, and pull down the one altar that stood uncorrupted in a defiled temple. He who walked freely between worlds, he who alone knew the true dimensions of things, knew their names and their faces, their unspoken words and their precise places. He for whom there were no veils, he, who in equal measure and equal ease, was at one moment standing amid the bells of the lepers where no one would walk, and in the next was wandering in ancient times with Abraham and Isaac as they toiled up that same hill in order to make their sacrifice.
It is the hill we all walk, the mother knew. We climb its crags and steep rocky paths – to find he has gone before us. Pilgrims with our burdens, with our hearts laid heavy with death, each of us walks up the hill at this precise moment, only to find him already here; the sacrifice already made, and the whole world his altar. That was the keenness of the sword in her heart – it was not just his willingness to climb this hill, it was that he climbed it once, a thousand times, and always, so that no creature that ever toiled to the summit would have to raise that knife to cut into their own heart. Every Isaac could live. Every Abraham could rejoice. Apart from her of course. But she, at least, could rejoice in the knowledge that she was the last Abraham that would have to make the sacrifice of a heart, a child, shattered upon the mountaintop.
We toil up a hill. There is a mother before us. Her brow and back are bent like haggard wiry grass on a wild, wet moor. The veils are torn. They are torn and all the world with it. All the world is dying upon this hill.
What is rent asunder is beginning to become one. In learning how to die well, we are beginning to comprehend what it is to live. There was always a fine line between living and dying, a veil perhaps. Living and dying well looked something like the man who gave food while he hungered, who promised water though he thirsted, who comforted though he was afflicted, who brought rest though he wearied, who wiped away tears whilst shedding his own, who, with a whisper, leant a hand to help up those already dead, whilst walking alone up a hill to die.
Emma Brown, Lanercost Priory
Good Friday 2015