Fr. Bill Carroll – Good Friday, April 7, 2023

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

These words come from a beloved hymn.  We will sing it later as a wooden cross is brought into the church.  The hymn is a spiritual in the Black church tradition.  It comes out of four hundred years of suffering and oppression.

Three other verses follow.  Each asks a similar question with a slightly different twist.  But, to each question, the answer is the same:  Yes, we were there.  We were there when they crucified our Lord. We were there when they nailed him to the tree. We were there when they pierced him in the side. We were there when they laid him in the tomb.  And sometimes it causes us to tremble, tremble, tremble.  We tremble with sorrow—and also with joy—because of what God has done.

The Greek word anamnesis is often translated remembrance.  It comes up in the Holy Eucharist, when Jesus tells us to “Do this in remembrance of me.”  But anamnesis means far more than “memory.”  It is memory that shapes our hope and gives our lives direction.  One theologian (J. B. Metz) calls it “dangerous memory.”  It is the memory of our freedom in Christ.  

Remembrance is the collective memory of the People of God.  It tells us who we are—and who we belong to.  It has its roots in the Jewish Passover.  The Rev. Dr. Lee Mitchell, in his commentary on the Book of Common Prayer, observes that “Through [remembrance] we become participants in the events, not as history, but as present realities in our lives…”  Mitchell quotes at length from the words spoken at the Passover meal:  “It was not only our ancestors that the Holy One, blessed be he,  redeemed [from slavery], but us as well.  He redeemed [us] along with them…Therefore we are bound to thank, praise, laud, glorify, exalt, and adore him…”

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

This year, I’ve been learning how to give the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius Loyola.  The Exercises are a thirty-day retreat, where we encounter the living Lord and his call to serve.  In the third week, we pray over the suffering of Jesus as it is recorded in the Gospels.  And we ask God for the grace of “sorrow with Christ in sorrow; a broken spirit with Christ so broken; tears and interior suffering, because of the great suffering, which Christ endured for me.”

On Good Friday, we bring our lives and our histories to Jesus on the Cross.  We use our imagination to enter into his story with compassion.  And so, we ask God’s Spirit to break down the divisions between our time and his time, so that we may keep Jesus company as he suffers and dies for us.  We fix our eyes on Jesus crucified, so that we may learn to love him.  We pray that we might know ourselves better through his eyes.  And so, we bring our strained relationships and our shortcomings to him.  We bring all that we have ever suffered or done.

“It is finished,” says Jesus from the Cross.  Like a woman in labor, he cries out in exhaustion and pain—but also in great joy.  Because his struggle is over.  He has finished his mission.  Now, it is time for Jesus to enter Sabbath rest.  

Recently, I spoke to you about “how the Gospel unsettles our judgment.”  We all know Christians who seem to have it all figured out.  Some claim to understand everything that happened on the Cross, including the details of the “transaction” between Jesus and the Father.  

We do know a few things.  We know that Jesus died for us.  We know that we have been washed in his precious blood.  We know that, on the Cross, he has destroyed death—and that he is making all things new.

But we dishonor Jesus, when we claim to understand his suffering too well.  We need to accompany him to the Cross.  We fail to honor him, when we reduce his agony to a theory.  The suffering of Jesus is real.  It happened to a real human being.  It is both a profound mystery—and an experience that we share.  It comes to us in darkness and confusion.  It is a “perversion of justice.”  It is appalling in its violence and inhumanity.  

The death of Jesus takes its meaning from his life.  From the beginning, he shows us God’s love for all people.  He shows us God’s love, and his forgiveness for us sinners.  Today, his life is cut short in the most awful way we could imagine. And we can’t see the meaning of that until the Third Day.  And so, we come to his Cross, and we weep there.  We wait with him in the awful silence.  And we thank him for his wondrous love.

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


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