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‘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.’

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?

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Sister Dawn Tomaszewski

Sister Dawn Tomaszewski was elected General Superior of the Sisters of Providence in 2016. She has been a Sister of Providence since 1975. Previously she ministered as a teacher, as communication and development director for the sisters and their ministries and as a member of elected leadership on the general council of the Sisters of Providence.

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2 Comments

  1. Mary Hogan Weber on April 10, 2017 at 3:09 pm

    Sr. Dawn,

    What a poignant reflection on Christ’s Crucifixion and the beautiful spiritual. I appreciate the guidance it gives us to stand with those suffering around us and to generously share our love with them. May God’s blessings be with you and all the Sisters of Providence this Easter season.

  2. Sharon Ammen on April 14, 2017 at 10:19 am

    Sister Dawn–a beautiful reflection. Right now it causes me to ask myself why I am not stepping forward more than I am. (I am trying) and being courageous enough to speak out against what is happening all around me. I have been thinking a lot about how it is easy for me (us) to laud and speak out for things from the PAST. The wrongs against Jesus; the wrongs against Martin Luther King, things that we all accept now. But what about what is happening now–what is even being supported in some ways by all of us–and even being supported by SMWC through its absence of making the strong statements and support that other colleges and institutions have made. Do we owe it to ourselves to take chances–to speak out–to have dialogues about the really dangerous subjects that we need to address tight now and within our communities? Issues about reproductive rights, about refugees, about all of those things that we can discuss and disagree about but about what we are being silent in many ways. My conscience pricks me–what must I do?

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