This is the sermon I preached at our Community Good Friday service. It was an ecumenical service with PC(USA), United Methodist, Mennonite, American Baptist, & AME clergy participating. I always enjoy being with my colleagues & worshipping together as the one Body of Christ.
Were You There?
The hymn “Were You There”, when sung on this night, reminds me of the power of Good Friday. The verses are full of haunting images of Christ’s final moments here on earth – from those souls gathered around the cross, to the nails being pierced through his hands, to when he is carried away to his tomb. Whenever I close my eyes, surrounded by these images, I can place myself there in the scene on the top of the hill as one who was present at Christ’s crucifixion. And, this is what the hymn is meant to do – to transport us into a space where we can be present & very much involved in the event itself. And, so I invite you this night, to be transported into this space – into the scene of Christ’s final hours on that fateful night so long ago.
Sung: Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble. Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
The words “Crucify him! Crucify him!” echo out into Jerusalem. The people, the soldiers, the chief priests yell these harsh words as Jesus is paraded right in front of them. They want absolutely nothing to do with this man, who just days earlier entered into the city to shouts of “Hosanna!” & to claims of being the Messiah, the king they were waiting for. But, now the tables have been turned completely, & the people are revolting against him. It did not matter what Pilate said or what he found out from Jesus. It did not matter that Pilate presented their King to the people – they already made their minds up. They shouted at the top of their lungs once again – “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!” The chief priests denied his role as their king, instead pledging their loyalty to the emperor. Pilate had no choice at this point, but to hand Jesus over for his crucifixion.
Where are you in this story? Are you there, amidst the angry crowd of voices? Are you there, voicing your denial of Jesus as King? Where are you? Where is your voice?
Sung: Were you there when they nailed him to the tree? Were you there when they nailed him to the tree? Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble. Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?
Now, after Jesus carried his heavy cross up to Golgotha, he was nailed up upon the cross by the soldiers. There was a crowd gathered around & the soldiers decide to cast lots for his clothes. They went after his possessions like a greedy child grabbing for more candy. All dignity was gone. All decency was gone. It was a brutal, savage scene. But, in the middle of it all, there stood the most important women in Jesus’ life – his mother Mary, her sister, & Mary Magdalene. The pain in their eyes & their hearts was intense. The sadness overwhelmed them to see the man they loved deeply, hanging there in front of them, in pain & in agony. And, in the midst of this horrible time, Jesus manages to mutter the words – “here is your mother” to his most beloved disciple. He wanted his mother to be cared for after his death. And, then Jesus knew it was over. He was done. So, the words “I am finished” escaped his mouth as he left the world & gave his spirit to God.
Where are you? Are you there, casting lots for meager possessions? Are you there, in the pain of a mother watching her beloved son die on a cross? Where are you? Where is your voice?
Sung: Were you there when they laid him in the tomb? Were you there when they laid him in the tomb? Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble. Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?
When it was over, it was time to move the body. The soldiers decided to pierce his side to make sure that he was indeed gone. Blood & water poured out from his side, so they knew he was dead. A man, Joseph of Arimathea, along with Nicodemus, took Jesus’ body from the crucifixion scene. They carefully anointed him with spices, wrapped his body in the burial cloths, & solemnly carried him to the tomb. What a strong juxtaposition of the brutal crucifixion & the love & care showed to Christ by these men. They obviously loved him & wanted him to be laid in peace.
Where are you? Are you there, with soldiers piercing his side? Are you there, with the men, lovingly preparing Christ for his burial? Where are you? Where is your voice?
And, with the tomb closed, it was over. There were no more words spoken. Silence took over & the grief began.