‘Were you there when they crucified, my Lord?’
Hardly a Good Friday has passed that I have not heard or sung those soulful words of the African-American Spiritual, “Were you there when they crucified, my Lord?”
As I write, I find myself humming the tune that accompanies the phrases that always catch in my throat, “Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble. Were you there when they crucified, my Lord?”
I reflect upon the people who were there … the women grieving at the foot of the cross, especially Jesus’ mother. I think about the men hanging with Jesus, grateful perhaps that they did not have to die alone or with nails piercing their hands and feet. I even consider Pontius Pilate, the authority figure who could have as easily dismissed the charges against Jesus as given in to the cries of the mob demanding crucifixion.
Of course, there is Jesus himself. It is hard for me to imagine the excruciating physical pain he must have endured during the act of crucifixion. But I also reflect on the psychological and spiritual suffering that must have gripped him. Why had God abandoned him? Had he not been faithful to the mission entrusted to him by a God he knew as Abba?
Oh, it does cause me to tremble.
It also causes me to pray — not only to find meaning in the suffering of Jesus but also, as St. Paul suggests, to seek strength to share in the sufferings of the Christ.
Immediately, images flash into my mind of the people of Syria following the recent attack using the nerve agent sarin. Who is that grieving father kissing his deceased daughter goodbye? Who is that little boy, hanging on, struggling to breathe? What hatred has ordered such an execution?
Who are we crucifying today? How do I unknowingly participate? Am I there in solidarity? Am I suffering with them?
The questions are endless and merciless once you let them come. Where else am I called to stand and with whom? Who doesn’t have water right now? Who doesn’t have a home? Who is hungry in body or spirit? Who is misunderstood? Is there someone among my own sisters who feels abandoned at this moment? Among my family? What can I do? What can I do?
“Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.” How are we there when we/they crucify our Lord?