Stabat Populus

And the people stood by, looking on. And even the rulers were sneering at Him, saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if this is the Christ of God, His Chosen One (Luke 23:35; NASB)

On Good Friday when we see the word stabat we might think of the 13th century hymn, Stabat Mater, a reflection on the suffering and “station keeping” of Mary. I was struck by this verse read during the Good Friday service. In the Vulgate the text says “stabat populus. The phrase “stabat mater” does not occur in Scripture but this one, stabat populus, does.

After Jesus was nailed to the cross one of the malefactors mocked him. The soldiers were casting lots for his garments. The princes scoffed. The soldiers mocked him. The people were standing by, waiting for something to happen. The Stabat Mater sentimentalizes Mary’s suffering and emphasizes her “station keeping.” Luke, however, does not mention Mary keeping station. He does mention “the people” standing by expecting, watching God the Son incarnate bear God’s immense wrath for our sins.

All the while Jesus was saying, “Father forgive them because they know not what they do.”

That makes Good Friday good.

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