Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. (John 19.25-27)
This moment has inspired so much art, so much devotion, so much prayer. The most powerful is the 13th century Latin Sequence (a form of liturgical hymn) called the Stabat Mater. It has been set by so many composers. My favourite is that by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, composed in 1736 in the final weeks of his life. It captures the pain and the dignity of the woman who has to go through what no woman or man should, watching their child die.
And the clock kept ticking.
At the cross her station keeping,
stood the mournful mother weeping,
close to Jesus at the last,
Through her soul, of joy bereavèd,
bowed with anguish, deeply grievèd,
now at length the sword hath passed.
O, that blessed one, grief-laden,
blessed Mother, blessed Maiden,
Mother of the all-holy One;
O that silent, ceaseless mourning,
O those dim eyes, never turning
from that wondrous, suffering Son.
Who, on Christ’s dear mother gazing,
in her trouble so amazing,
born of woman, would not weep?
Who, on Christ’s dear Mother thinking,
such a cup of sorrow drinking,
would not share her sorrows deep?
For his people’s sins, in anguish,
there she saw the victim languish,
bleed in torments, bleed and die.
Saw the Lord’s anointed taken,
saw her Child in death forrsaken,
heard his last expiring cry.
In the passion of my Maker,
be my sinful soul partaker,
may I bear with her my part;
of his passion bear the token,
in a spirit bowed and broken
bear his death within my heart.
May his wounds both wound and heal me,
he enkindle, cleanse, and heal me,
be his cross my hope and stay.
May he, when the mountains quiver,
from that flame which burns for ever
shield me on the judgment day.
Jesus, may thy cross defend me,
and thy saving death befriend me,
cherished by thy deathless grace:
when to dust my dust returneth,
grant a soul that to thee yearneth
in thy paradise a place.