The Pieta - A Meditation

Good Friday - Lent

Assured that Pontius Pilate had given permission for the Body of Jesus to be taken down from the Cross, the centurion nods to Joseph of Arimathea to begin the task. He cannot help but notice the gentle and reverential manner in which Jesus’ friends work, in stark contrast to the brutal and unfeeling way his soldiers handled and nailed Jesus to the Cross.

The grave that Joseph of Arimathea had prepared for himself, and which he had given to Mary for her Son, was not very far from Golgotha. The body of Jesus is carried to the grave in the shroud which he has bought. The pall bearers with him are Nicodemus and two of his servants. They are followed by His mother, who is supported by John, and Mary Magdalen.

Having found a large stone on which she could sit the pall bearers gently place the body of Jesus on Mary’s lap. With deep emotion His mother embraces her Son for a while. Mary then asks Mary Magdalen and John to help her remove those ghastly thorns from Jesus’ head, some of which were deeply embedded in His skull. They carefully remove the three, four and five inch thorns and Mary can only imagine the sharp pain they caused her Son through his long ordeal! She pictured the soldiers mocking Him as they went through their mock coronation: one, wearing gloves himself so as not to prick his fingers, gently placed the crown on Jesus’ head and then with a rod banged it several times until it was securely fitted round His brow causing the thorns to draw blood in countless places.

When all the thorns had been removed Mary ran her fingers through His hair and recalled the numerous times she had washed and combed His it. Now what a mess it was!

Joseph not only brought a shroud in which to wrap the Body of Jesus, but also water and cloths. With them Mary washed the dried blood, sweat and spittle off the face of her Son. She thought of the hurt this must have caused Him.

Next, Mary gave her attention to the gaping wound in His shoulder, caused by the rough wood of the Cross rubbing through to the bone. She thought instinctively that this must have been an aching pain and, in fact, Jesus revealed to one saint that it was this wound that gave Him the most pain in His passion. Mary began cleaning this unsightly wound in His shoulder.

She then set about washing his chest. His Body looked so emaciated. She saw the pierced wound in His side which the soldier had inflicted on Him instead of breaking His legs as he had with the two thieves. She remembered the blood and water that had flowed from this wound, as she cleaned it as best she could.

Then John took one of Jesus’ arms and gave it to Mary and her eye caught the gaping wound the nail had made in His wrist. She kissed His hand which had been raised so often in blessing people and their things. She could only imagine how He endured the pain these nails caused Him and remembered turning away unable to watch as the soldiers hammered the nails. How she had wanted to hold Him at that moment! Then she washed the other arm and hand.

It was then decided to lay the Body of Jesus on a flat stone and wash the rest of His body. She was so grateful to the Romans for allowing them to look after her Son in this manner but she realises they have to hurry because the sun is setting and the Sabbath is due to begin when all work must stop. They yet have to rub his whole body down with the sweet smelling spices Nicodemus has very kindly brought.

Slowly they turn the body of Jesus and the sight of His lacerated back from the scourging draws a sharp intake of breath from each of them. His Body is just a shred of bloody flesh. How would you set about washing that mess! They do the best they can.

When the washing is done they set about covering the Body with the sweet smelling spices. This is so much easier and a more pleasant task; the aromas are delightful and so fitting for their Lord. When this is completed Joseph produces the long white shroud he has bought and they lovingly wrap the Body of their Lord in it. Jesus is carried once again by the pall bearers and placed on the slab of stone. Mary kisses and embraces her Son for the last time. Mary Magdalene also kisses her Lord’s brow and John affectionately touches the Body of Jesus before His mother performs the last ceremonial act – she places a cloth over the face of her Son. They exit the tomb and the men together roll the heavy stone against the entrance. They all depart sorrowfully.

Mary Magdalene will wait impatiently for the Sabbath to be over until she can come again to complete the anointing of Jesus’ Body. It is only Mary, the mother of Jesus, who remembers what He said, “And on the third day I shall rise.” She can’t wait to embrace her risen Son again.