Wednesday 25th March
At The Cross Her Vigil Keeping CH4 387
At the cross her vigil keeping
stood the mournful mother weeping
where he hung, the dying Lord.
for her soul, of joy bereaved,
bowed with sorrow, deeply grieved,
passed the sharp and piercing sword.
2. Who, on Christ’s dear mother gazing,
pierced with anguish 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?
3. For his people’s sins chastised,
she beheld her son despised,
scourged and crowned with thorns entwined,
saw him then from judgement taken,
and in death by all forsaken,
till his spirit he resigned.
4. Jesus may her deep devotion
stir in me the same emotion,
fount of love, Redeemer kind,
that my heart, fresh ardour gaining,
Near thy cross, O Christ, abiding,
and a purer love attaining,
may with thee acceptance find.
There are many versions of this hymn – here is a good Plainsong version of it. The words differ slightly from those above but it’s the same meter.
St John 19: 25
Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.
As a child we sang from The Methodist Hymn Book (1933) and I cannot recall an occasion when #185 (this hymn) was used. There is a Free Church tendency to minimise (if not entirely omit) the place of Mary. As we contemplate the manger, our eyes, hearts and minds are drawn to the One who is God incarnate. Similarly, as we gaze upon the Cross it is the One crucified who is the focus of our devotion. Yet in both of these scenes Mary, his mother, is part of the ‘picture’. Her presence at the Cross prompts Jesus to commend her to “the disciple whom he loved” with the words, “Here is your mother” and “from that hour the disciple took her into his own home”. (John 19: 26-27)
Here in this hymn – and the Gospel scene that inspired it – we see the ultimate heartache borne by Mary. It captures the tragedy and sadness of the scene: Who, on Christ’s dear mother thinking such a cup of sorrow drinking, would not share her sorrows deep? Whilst our gaze is, rightly, is drawn to the One crucified we might also ponder his mother as she represents the countless number of parents, children, partners and friends who keep vigil beside the suffering of their loved ones. Helpless and powerless, we experience a pain akin to “a sharp and piercing sword”.
Any consideration of Mary will ultimately point us to her Son. Mary points us to Jesus. We keep vigil beside her and, gazing upon him, know both God’s sacrificial love and the cost of that love – both for the crucified One and his grieving mother. As we gaze, let us pray for a measure of her faithfulness and willingness to keep vigil with those who suffer and, with her, direct the gaze of all towards the One crucified.
help me to stand with Mary at the foot of the cross:
that I might appreciate
the breadth and depth of your love.
I hold before you today
all who keep vigil beside those who suffer or are dying:
may they know comfort and strength in their heartache.
May those who suffer for their faith
find courage and resilience.
Inspired by the example of Mary
may I enable others to see you.