A Good Friday personal reflection based on Mark 14.1-15.47.
Today, personalizing the plaintive query of the spiritual – Was I there when they crucified my Lord? – I ask what would I have done?
Whenever I read the account of Jesus’ crucifixion and death, I find myself, almost unconsciously, focusing on those who were involved. In this, I confess my tendency to take note of what I deem to be their character flaws.
(As much as I fight against it, I occasionally succumb to the human inclination to compare myself with others in order to bolster my self-esteem. Jesus’ suffering and death provides more than ample input for my periodic self-reclamation project!)
I am disheartened by the blindness, perhaps a condition of jealousy, of those who, in sending Jesus to Pontius Pilate, rejected one who sought to do good.
And disturbed that the crowd, when given an opportunity to release Jesus, chose to beg for the freedom of Barabbas, a terrorist.
And dismayed by the increasingly violent crowd, surely, some of whom, given the innate mindlessness of a mob mentality, neither knew the what nor the why of their cry, “Crucify him!”
And disgusted by the pitiless cruelty of the soldiers who scorned and scourged Jesus; offering in their defense the emptiest, most evasive excuse that they merely followed orders.
And disillusioned by the contemptible cowardice of the disciples, who, in Jesus’ greatest, gravest hour of need, fled.
Yet, in my disheartened, disturbed, dismayed, disgusted, and disillusioned arrogance, I am secure in my sense of my moral superiority only for the briefest moment before I hear again that haunting question: Was I there when they crucified my Lord?
Physically, no. Spiritually, yes. Thus, no less humanly and truly. For those who were there are like me and I like them. Their faces are a mirror into which I gaze and behold my reflection. Hence, if I had been there, the result would have been the same. Jesus would have been crucified. Jesus would have died. For this, I tremble in sorrow.
But, as this is Good Friday, I tremble, if not with joy, then with anticipation of a new possibility. A new possibility that is possible only when I see myself (or, as I am wont to say my self) clearly.
Thus, I look beyond all who opposed Jesus and the crowd, Pontius Pilate and the soldiers, and the disciples. I look into the face of Jesus crucified on the cross.
In his face, I behold my human reflection. In his face, I behold my new possibility.
That I, like Jesus, who, given what I believe, what I know from the gospel narrative, submitted willingly to his death, might choose to die. That I might choose to crucify, to put to death all that is within me that makes for death – my jealousies, my favoring retaliation over reconciliation, my thoughtless violence in word and deed, my acts of cruelty, my cowardice in the face of trial.
Was I there when they crucified my Lord? Yes. And if I dare to see in the cross of Jesus not only a terrible instrument of human cruelty, but also an anticipatory sign of my new possibility, then I, not only in mourning, but also in thanksgiving, might sing:
Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
For I was there when they crucified my Lord.
© 2021 PRA
Illustration: Crucifixion (c. 1618-1620), detail (for effect, filtered and adjusted for light and color); Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640)
Were You There, likely composed by slaves, was first published in William Eleazar Barton’s Old Plantation Hymns (1899).
 Jesus said, “No one takes (my life) from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10.18). And, at the Last Supper, Jesus, knowing that Judas Iscariot would betray him, said to him, “Do quickly what you are going to do”, after which Judas immediately went out (John 13.27, 30b).