|16 - RACHEL WEEPING FOR HER CHILDREN, Dec 27, 2020|
This sermon was recorded live and can be viewed on our St Herman's public Facebook and YouTube channel
“Rachel weeping for her children, not wishing to be comforted because they are no more.” This is the word we seek to understand. I make bold to assert that in this word we enter, as into the Cave of Bethlehem, the real meaning of Christmas. I note that this is the Christmas Gospel read most often in the Christmas cycle.
Let’s pick it up at the beginning of the thread. It says: “A voice was heard in Ramah.” Ramah is the name of several towns scattered throughout biblical Palestine; so, a voice was heard throughout all Palestine. But, I think the theological, spiritual meaning of Ramah lies in the meaning of its root, rūm. It connotes a lofty place, especially one dedicated to the worship of idols. A voice was heard in Ramah, then, draws in my mind the picture of the soul wailing in sudden agony when it is torn from the body and descends into the spiritual world of the idols it worshipped while still ‘alive’ in the flesh. I believe that, in the Holy Spirit, St Matthew discerned in this gruesome murder of the innocents the precise event that the LORD—i.e., the Christ-child!—revealed to Jeremiah centuries earlier. But, as gruesome and evil as Herod’s murdering of the innocents is, I believe St Matthew records it for a deeper purpose. It gives us a way to feel viscerally what is happening in the unseen deep of our soul when we devote our life to the idols of greed, anger, and conceit and not to finding the way of repentance. Dark spirits dwell in the passions of these idols, and they murder us so that we are no more and utterly without hope.
But, the voice heard weeping inconsolably in Ramah is parallel to “Rachel weeping for her children,” giving us to understand that the voice, which is singular not plural, heard weeping is that of the Theotokos’. In Hebrew, the name Rachel means an ewe; and this is what the Church calls the Beloved Virgin, for her Son is the “Lamb of God.” If she is the Mother of the Lamb of God by whom all things were made, and if we are all the sheep of His pasture, then she is the Mother of us all, as St Paul says. (Gal 4.26)
I therefore wonder if this word of the LORD to Jeremiah reveals what was in the soul of our Virgin Mother so that we are given a glimpse of what she was feeling, experiencing, ‘inside’ herself, when she gave birth to the Son of God as her first-born Child. Mothers have a bond with their children because the child comes to be and grows from the Mother’s very substance, both bodily and spiritual. As the Mother of God, then, from whose pure blood, soul and mind, the Son of God knit the garment of His humanity, our most Beloved Mother, in her maternal union with Him inside her womb, experienced, with Him, the inmost depths of the human soul. She experienced firsthand in her maternal bond with her Son His union with us, such that she felt, with Him, the human soul’s fear of death in her enslavement to the devil, the fear of being ‘no more’. That means that, as the most merciful Mother of the most merciful God, she experienced in her own soul the inconsolable grief of the mothers of these murdered children who were ‘no more.’ She experienced their grief as her own, for having become Theotokos, she had become the ‘Mother of us all.’
St Matthew brings this word of Jeremiah forward as the holy family is fleeing to Egypt. I can believe that by this, the Holy Spirit means us to understand that this is what the Holy Mother was feeling, together with her Son and our God, as they rode on the donkey to Egypt. She was weeping in her inconsolable grief for these children. For, they were her children, and they were ‘no more’—just as she would weep inconsolably, together with the other myrrh-bearing women, all of them mothers, over the corpse of her Son and our God when He was taken down from the Tree.
Might this word of Jeremiah, which we see now is of the ‘Mother of Our LORD’, be the explanation for all the ‘weeping icons’ of the Theotokos throughout the centuries in so many Churches throughout the world? She is our Mother. We are her children, and in the Spirit of her Son, who alone knows the hidden things of the heart, she weeps ‘greatly’, it says, for us, her children because, in our idolatry, we are no more!
They ‘fled’ to Egypt, it says. They fled westward into the setting sun, a symbol of death. They fled to Egypt where this same Christ Child, appearing to Moses as the LORD, “He Who Is” (Ex 3.14), delivered Israel from her bondage to Pharaoh. In the spiritual substance of this journey to Egypt in space-time, the LORD with His Holy Mother was gathering all of Israel, past, present and future, into His outstretched embrace on the Cross.
But, this is the LORD of all, not Moses. He comes to deliver not just Israel but the whole of Adam. He is not coming to destroy a worldly king, a Pharaoh or a Herod. He is coming to destroy the devil who murdered Adam and Eve and all their children at the beginning, and who held all of us in the power of death through fear.
Now, does not weeping proceed from a grief that rises from the invisible depths of the human heart because her loved one is ‘no more’? Weeping opens us onto our heart and onto where we are truly, spiritually dead. I wonder if Rachel weeping for her children, then, is St Matthew’s way of telling us that the Holy Virgin was engaged in the prayer of the heart which, St Gregory Palamas (14th Cent) tells us, she ‘conceived’ in her soul when she was living in the sanctuary of the Temple? She is the “mother” of the Jesus prayer. She gives birth to it in all her children who seek it.
It may be these inchoate glimpses of something very deep I think I’m seeing in Rachel weeping for her children that are impressing upon my mind the very strong sense that it was in the Holy Theotokos weeping for us, her children, that Gabriel was able to roll the stone away from the LORD’s Tomb. From this, we perhaps should understand that that prayer is truly the prayer of the heart that gives birth to the deep weeping of our soul in that holy mourning that is truly blessed in the comfort of the LORD, our LORD, and His Holy Mother, our Holy Mother.
For, it so happens that in this passage from Jeremiah that St Matthew sees fulfilled in the Virgin weeping for her children (Jer 31.15), we also come upon the LORD’s WORD to Jeremiah of the New Covenant, which will be fulfilled at the Last Supper. (Jer 31.31-34) Rachel weeping for her children connects us directly, by means of the LORD’s word to Jeremiah, to the Upper Room on Great and Holy Thursday, when the LORD sets before His disciples His own body and blood as the New Covenant given for many (for all) for the remission of sins (Mt 26.28).
From this meditation, I would offer to you that the real meaning of Christmas is not understood apart from Rachel weeping for her children, just as she will weep inconsolably for her only-begotten Son on Great and Holy Friday. This tells me that we experience the real meaning of Christmas—the birth of Christ God—as we turn to Him inwardly in repentance in order to be embraced in the arms of His Holy Mother, the Virgin “weeping” for us, her children. And, I think, that as our souls are washed by the tears of our Holy Mother, our souls will begin to soften; the hardness of our stony heart will begin to be rolled away until we, too, will find ourselves entering the tomb of our heart, weeping the tears of repentance over our sins and trespasses that have murdered us, separated us from God, so that we are ‘no more.’ But, I think that as our weeping becomes more and more united to the weeping of our Holy Mother, the Virgin Theotokos, we will discover ourselves beginning to weep for the whole world with our Mother and with her Son and our God.
From this, I would offer to you that the real meaning of Christmas is the beginning of repentance, the beginning of that blessed mourning that brings the comfort our soul longs for; for it is the beginning of our heart being emptied of her sins and trespasses, cleansed of her dying. In this do we begin to find the “joy of the Feast!” May the joy of this feast shine in the cave of our heart and illumine the path in our souls that leads to the blessed Tomb of the LORD’s Holy Pascha. Amen!