three crosses on a hill, figure of a man standing at the base of one.

April 15, 2022 | Ralph McCloud | Today's Readings

“Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.”

This familiar Good Friday hymn was created by people enslaved and robbed of hopes and freedoms that we often take for granted today. Though they of course did not witness the crucifixion firsthand, as victims of extreme cruelty, they felt a closeness to the crucified Christ. 

Of course, I wasn’t present at the crucifixion either — as is true for all who read this. But I, like many others, still tremble, tremble, tremble when I consider the horror of Jesus’ execution: the sorrow of his mother, the grief of his friends, and the pain of those who witnessed the state-sanctioned killing of a preacher, healer, consoler, teacher, and savior. 

I still tremble tremble tremble, despite not being physically there or living in those days and times. 

The enslaved people who sang “Were You There?” were, in fact, not there — but they had a type of vision that looked backward and forward. They looked backward toward Calvary, and forward toward today. They hoped and prayed that what they labored for might produce a brighter time for those in years to come. 

Sadly, we still fall short of this brighter future in many ways. All around us, we see the mistreatment of human beings — mothers, immigrants, people of color, people in poverty, and even those who muster the courage to speak on their behalf. 

Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.

Walking through my Lenten journey, I reflect on the suffering of Jesus, who serves as savior for both sinner and saint, converted and condemned, faith-filled and faithless. I also reflect on the suffering of some of God’s other children. I reflect on those who are condemned, harmed, killed, and abused by the hands of those in power. I reflect on friends and family members who have died at the hands of police or the death penalty. I reflect on the plight of those who are poor and those on the move from comfortable homelands to ambiguity. I reflect on the unemployed and the underemployed. I reflect on those who cannot find the courage to forgive or to engage their neighbors with dignity. 

Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble. 

Jesus’ sisters and brothers continue to struggle — from Kyiv to Krakow to Kenosha, from Huntsville, Texas to Huntsville, Alabama. From hamlets, villages, towns, and cities, God continues to ask: Were you there? Were you there to defend? To heal? To comfort? To prevent? To speak out? Were you there? Was I there? 

This Good Friday, let us seek ways of moving from a paralysis of merely trembling to a culture of encounter and action. 

The same Christ that suffered and died for me also died for the condemned, the immigrant, the child in poverty, and those whose dignity is threatened. 

Today, as the world pauses to remember the suffering and death of Jesus, may we also remember the suffering of those he came to save, and recommit to defending their dignity.