“Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” So have generations sung on this day, and we will sing in due course. “Were you there when they nailed him to a tree?”
But who was there?
We certainly know of some who were not there when Christ died. We know that most of his closest disciples, the ones he first called his friends and chose as his apostles, were not there. They had scattered in fear and confusion.
The crowds that used to follow Jesus – the ones who welcomed him to Jerusalem and who listened to him in the Temple – they were not there, either. The small group that gathered around the cross did not comprise of these people.
We know that Peter did not make it there. He wanted to be there but could not stay the distance. His own betrayal perhaps stung the most.
So, who was there when they crucified the Lord?
We know that those who had condemned Jesus to death were there. They seemed to have had a need to ensure that the job was done. But even while there, they raged against him: “Do not call him our king.”
The soldiers, too – they were certainly there. Someone had to do the deed, and as is so often the case, it wasn’t the one who had orchestrated it. Why not, then, make the most of it by taking a share in the plunder?
And of course, present at the foot of the cross were the three Marys, with John tagging along. The other gospels tell us that John had scattered with the apostles. Perhaps he ended up at the Lord’s death simply because he had run off to be with Jesus’ mother. And there was only ever going to be one place where she would be found: with her Son.
It would seem that no one was really there for Jesus at his death. Even his own mother did not want this end for him. Jesus died alone; it was the only way it would be possible for us to be saved. He died for his disciples and his condemners. He died for those with a mild interest and those who had no interest. He died for sinners, one and all.
It was not our work that would break the ancient bond of death over us; it was not anything we could accomplish that would bring us life. It was all his work; all of it. He was there on the cross for us, so that we did not need to be.
Whether you are an apostle or a chief priest, then; whether you are a soldier or a distant follower; whether you are Peter or John, or one of the Marys; Jesus was there for you. He had completed his task; he had carried us to the end.
Were we there as they crucified our Lord? Yes, we were; for Jesus had carried us there with him.
Archbishop Peter A Comensoli01 April 2021