25 Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.
26 When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son!
27 Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home. (John 19: 25-27)
‘At the cross her station keeping’. The hymn ‘Stabat Mater’ is traditionally sung during this service, both as a recognition that Mary was there and of the role she played and that we are called to stand with her in our devotions. It may be helpful to reflect on what was happening to the mother of our Lord, what others might have been thinking and how it might help us in this solemn moment and beyond.
It must all have been a blur. Mary, distraught and unable to save her son in his dying moments, was dependent upon her family for support. She had her sister Salome, her sister-in-law Mary and her nephew John with her, along with Jesus’ disciple Mary Magdalene. At least she was not alone; she had them for physical and emotional support.
Support was necessary not least because there was still a potential threat from the authorities. They were on Calvary in support of a condemned man, a man being executed for sedition. They did not need to be associated with anything that seemed to oppose Rome. The risk was real so they needed to be careful to be seen as close family members and nothing more. Perhaps it was for the best that the majority of the disciples were not there. Even so it might have crossed the minds of those present that the disciples might do something. And what about the twelve legions of angels Jesus had spoken of?
Jesus did speak again, this time from the cross and commended Mary to the care of the Beloved Disciple, ever solicitous of the needs of his mother both present and future. In some way this extended family group would become a model for all that was to come, for the new Israel, the family of God which would be called the Church. These thoughts are but a harbinger of all that was to come, but they are proof that for Jesus the future and the fulfilment of his Father’s will were paramount.
There must have been many moments over the course of the last few hours when Mary looked back across recent days and perhaps right back to the beginning – to Jesus’ conception, his birth and the events of his early life. Looking back must now be extremely difficult if not impossible. Jesus and his supporters have reached their destination. Mary cannot look back at previous sorrows as this is all too present. Nor is it likely that she could look forward. How could she possibly look beyond the present moment of pain and suffering, both her son’s and her own?
This is one of history’s pivotal moments, perhaps the pivotal moment. All of the past is summed up at this point because this is the moment when the true nature of God’s love is revealed and salvation is realised. If there is to be a future, this is where it will begin. If Mary was able to look back at all perhaps she remembered the words she had spoken at the wedding at Cana in Galilee, ‘Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it’. If she believed in Jesus then, how could she not do so now given the words of the Archangel, the prophecy of Simeon and the words of Jesus himself?
If there is to be a future, this is where it will begin. For now Mary can do no more than be at the foot of the cross. We too may join her in the shadow of our Lord. We may come ourselves with our sins and our brokenness and simply be here. Together with Mary we can realise that, however desperate the moment, whatever the pain, all is in God’s hands. All we need to do is to be there, to trust and to wait.
Father Andrew Burton SSC
Good Friday 2021