That Woe is Me

For about four years up until this last summer I’ve gotten to be a part of a little homeschooled choir; and a couple of years ago we all had decided to perform “Coventry Carol” for the upcoming Christmas concert. Only a handful of us had actually heard the song; it was hauntingly beautiful, beautifully sorrowful, and eye-opening in a sorrowful kind of way.
The original Coventry Carol was an a capella written for a pageant in the 1600’s, and was sung by three mothers carrying three little children onstage. The words go like this:
Lully, lullay, Thou little tiny Child,

Bye, bye, lully, lullay.

Lullay, thou little tiny Child,

Bye, bye, lully, lullay.

O sisters too, how may we do,

For to preserve this day

This poor youngling for whom we do sing

Bye, bye, lully, lullay.

Herod, the king, in his raging,

Charged he hath this day

His men of might, in his own sight,

All young children to slay.

That woe is me, poor Child for Thee!

And ever mourn and sigh,

For thy parting neither say nor sing,

Bye, bye, lully, lullay.

Coventry Carol was meant to be a lullaby, the last lullaby, sung for the mothers of Bethlehem two thousand years ago. It was written from this verse in Matthew;

“When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and it’s vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.”  (Matthew 2:16)

And it echoes the following passage:

“A voice is heard in Ramah,
Weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.”

I don’t know how many times I’ve read over these words without paying close attention, but ever since singing Coventry Carol with my choir I can’t help but wonder at the sadness I couldn’t possibly understand.

Because I cannot imagine the pain of losing a child. I cannot imagine what it means to live a life knowing you were given such a gift as a baby, had watched him grow and raised him as best as you could and have him ripped from your arms knowing you would never see him again.

And yet, I cannot possibly imagine either, what it would be like to find out that someday, you would see him again. For the night those children died at the hands of soldiers, the one child that lived was the only Way that each of those mothers could someday again hold their children in their arms, and He would be their comfort and hope until that day.

While Coventry Carol’s melancholy tune seemed out of place alongside “Joy to the World” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”, if you think long and hard enough about it you’ll find where it belongs. It’s a prelude. A prelude to every song happily sung during the season of Christmas. Because only until we understand why joy was brought to the world and why the angels sang will we understand the true joy of Christmas.

~Abbey Drury

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