Q: I’m doing a paper on Michelangelo’s Pietà. Is there any Biblical reference to a time when Jesus’ dead body would have been held by Mary in mourning? Does this popular art theme have any written (Biblical) basis or has it been “conjured up” by the faithful?
A: For the readers who don’t know the word, a pietà is a statue or other art showing the Virgin holding the dead Jesus. We know that Mary was present at the Crucifixion (John 19:25-27). She may have stayed with her Son until His death or she may have left, unable to bear more pain. Most likely, she was there to the end, finding in this watching — especially the final wound to His lifeless side — the bitter fulfillment of Simeon’s prophecy to Mary in the Temple: “A sword will pierce through your own soul also. (Luke 2:35)” It may well be that she held His lifeless body in her arms before Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus took Him to his grave, but we have no Scripture that tells us this.
A pietà is then, as you suggest, a representation by the faithful of a mother &mdash the holy Mother of God — overwhelmed by love and grief at the unjust death of her Son. So also, we may use it in our devotional thought to remind us of our own grief at the Savior’s death, especially since it was for our sins that He was crucified.
Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.
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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.