She did not know what the old man meant. Not really. Not then. But for the past nine months she had been walking through a thickness of miracles, wading so deep at times that she could scarcely manage breathing, so she knew better than to ignore what she was told. In one sense she was walking the path of everywoman, bearing a child in pain and fear, then loving it so deeply that she feared it would break her, carrying always in her mind, as closely as she held the child who, only a few days earlier had been part of her very flesh -- yes, THAT close! – the knowledge of the frailty of life, the fragility of that tiny thread of breath that raised and lowered the tiny chest. But, in another sense, she was walking a path no other woman before or since had trod. Only a few other women had ever had their child’s birth foretold by an angel (and none with such astounding promises). No other woman had borne her child in a virgin womb, no other woman’s child had been greeted at birth with a sky massed with exultant angels. It was a lot to take in.
So, like the words the angel had spoken, these words, too, were tucked away to be considered later when their meaning was made plain. But they were disturbing words to be told in the midst of her joy: “… and a sword will pierce your own heart too.” She could only repeat, in her heart, the words of her reply to the angel, the words that were her only guideline for the strange path that lay ahead: “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”
There were pains along the way. There was the pain of their flight to Egypt, leaving everything familiar behind. There was the pain of losing him that time in Jerusalem (and his response still filled her with discomfort when she thought of it). There was the pain of his leaving home to go forth in ministry, a ministry she still did not wholly understand. There was the pain of watching him make enemies of the very men, the religious elite of Israel, who should have been his sponsors. And there was the bewilderment of seeing him alienating his followers, reducing their numbers rather than increasing them.
Then came the terrible day when the sword was unsheathed. It was a sword that looked like a barbarous crown of twisted thorns. It was a sword that looked like those long, cruel, murderous spikes that the Roman soldiers called nails, and drove wickedly through his hands and feet. It was a sword that looked like the terrifying darkness that hid the daylight while he died: her desolation made universal. And it was a sword that looked like the long spear that was thrust to confirm his death, and the great, bitter stone that was rolled across his tomb. And she stood there, and she watched it all in a pain beyond all weeping, in a place where it seemed the angels would never sing again
She did not know until the Sunday that there was a greater song to be sung, and a glory that would flood through every gaping hole where the sword had wounded her so deeply.