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The Cross – Were you there, are you there, Part 2

Updated: Jul 15, 2022

Dr. RB McFee

Public Domain photo

“He was pierced for our sins, crushed for our iniquity. He bore the punishment that makes us whole, by His wounds we were healed.”

Isaiah 53:5

The other day I was having lunch with a dear friend and in many ways a spiritual mentor. It is a blessing when God places folks with the gifts of discernment and Christ centered wisdom in your life.

As one can imagine when good friends get together the conversation flowed from faith and food, to family, avocations, work, and life in general. And somewhere between pink lemonade and fajitas I mentioned I was thinking of purchasing a crucifix.

As a patient mentor, my friend, unfazed, smiled, and let me take the conversation a bit further. I think she knew where I was going with this. Perhaps the Holy Spirit that day was using a conference call, instead of talking just to me?

Maybe you can surmise where I was going with this, too?

I’ll get back to that in a moment.

Having grown up in an ecumenical family many of my cousins wore a crucifix, while others an empty cross. It was just a normal thing for Catholic relatives to wear the former, and Protestant cousins to wear the latter. Nobody debated ‘what’ or ‘why’ of it. Just a rite of passage – usually a nice quality one was given at a graduation, or similarly important milestone.

But the other day, looking at the promos for The Passion of the Christ, and Risen, and thinking about the unimaginable suffering Jesus underwent to save my soul, it dawned on me that we often underemphasize the crucifixion, in spite of the fact it is the central act of our faith, the defining act of our Savior, the gateway to our salvation.

Put differently, we too often sanitize the suffering of Jesus Christ. We aren’t alone.

And that’s why I wanted to purchase a crucifix. I don’t want to overlook the unfathomable suffering or the unbridled ‘agapeo’ type of love – Divine Love – it took to accept such an ordeal to save me, you, the world.

John 3:16 doesn’t even come close to conveying the type of love Jesus embodied on the road from Gethsemane to the sham trials, to Pilate and the flogging, to the cross. Naming that journey the Via Dolorosa is an understatement of epic proportions!

Speaking of understatement, if you read the four Gospel accounts of Jesus on Good Friday, there is little mention of the actual acts of crucifixion. Mark and John go into some detail on Jesus’ suffering before having to carry the cross to Golgotha. But in terms of the gruesome details of how our Savior was in fact impaled – hands, feet – to the cross are sanitized by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. This isn’t said as criticism but observation.

Perhaps that is because the practice of crucifixion throughout the Roman Empire, including Jerusalem, was so commonplace, the Gospel writers didn’t feel the need to describe the grizzly act of nailing someone to a cross.

Or perhaps it was a bit of shame that caused these writers to spare some of the awful details of such profound physical suffering. After all, we as people of faith know Jesus was on that cross because of us, our sins, our inadequacies, not His. Peter knew it. Matthew knew it. Anyone with spiritual integrity knew it. Anyone who experienced, experiences Jesus, knows it. I know it.

Perhaps it was too painful a reminder to the ones who were there when they crucified my Lord, their Lord.

We you there, are you there?

It took great love to accept the torture that faced Jesus. He knew what was coming, and though He had a choice, He accepted the cup. Yes our suffering Savior hoped that the crucifixion, His sacrifice for our purification, could be avoided, and He prayed to that effect. How often have we prayed for struggles to be taken away, and yet God says this is your course, your journey, just as He did with Jesus.

And it took great love to be there when they crucified my Lord. The Romans were not in the hospitality business. Staying by Jesus could invite beatings, imprisonment. And while there are some who would dismiss offhand the risk the women at the cross were taking because of their gender – here’s a sobering notion – women were also crucified, though not commonly, it was nevertheless done. The women were there out of love, and they were taking a risk with a cruel, occupying empire. Of course John took a risk, too.

Would we? Would we be there, too, by the foot of Jesus?

Are we there now? Are we by the cross, or hoping to skip this chapter in Jesus’ journey as much as possible, or at least avoid the pictures, until we can get to Easter?

I’ve seen The Passion of the Christ, and Risen. The filmmakers did not sensationalize the events. They were not subscribing to the media axiom ‘if it bleeds it leads!’ These movies show a very realistic image of being flogged, wearing a crown made of sharp thorns that have been slammed onto your scalp and face, of having large nails (think the type of spikes holding down rail road ties) driven through your hands or wrists and feet. You hear the pounding of nails going through flesh into wood, you see the agony on Jesus’ face. You see the tissue, the bones wrecked by the metal. You see the open wounds on Jesus’ body as it is laid bare against rough, splintery wood.

And we think a splinter or paper cut hurts!

To be sure, the Gospels give us some historical record of Jesus’ journey of physical torture to Golgotha at the hands of His captors.

Consider Mark 15:15-19 “Then Pilate, afraid of a riot and anxious to please the people, released Barabbas to them. And he ordered Jesus flogged with a leaded whip and handed Him over to be crucified. Then the Roman soldiers took him into the barracks of the palace, called out the entire palace guard, dressed Him in a purple robe, and a crown of long, sharp thorns and put it on His head. Then they kept yelling, “Yea! King of the Jews!” And they beat him on the head with a cane, and spat on him and went down on their knees to “worship” Him.

I could go into the effects of having a metal ball, often with a barb on it, flung at a bare back, but the Gospel Luke does an effective job showing us the type of torture Jesus underwent before He was crucified. It is evidence of Jesus’ strength that He even survived long enough to be crucified.

John 19: 1 – 3”Then Pilate laid open Jesus’ back with a leaded whip, and the soldiers made a crown of thorns and placed it on His head and robed Him in royal purple. “Hail, King of the Jews!” they mocked and struck Him with their fists.

When I read these Gospels, when I leave Maundy Thursday or participate in Good Friday remembrances – Cross Walk, Tenebrae, private prayers, the powerful lyrics of “Were you there when they crucified my Lord” echo in my mind. I am at that moment closer to Jesus, grateful for Him, and yet ashamed, too.

Were you there when the crucified my Lord?

Were you there when the crucified my Lord?

Were you there when the crucified my Lord?

Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble,, tremble, tremble

Were you there when the crucified my Lord?

Were you there when they nailed Him to the cross?

Were you there when they nailed Him to the cross?

Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.

Were you there when they nailed Him to the cross?

By the Seldom Scene ©1978

When I think about the lyrics, when I think of the night time arrest, insults, the daytime trial, more insults, and then the physical torture Jesus endured, as the suffering goes unabated until 3 in the afternoon, all I can think of saying to my Savior, between wiping away the tears, “I’m so not worth it Jesus.” “Thank you” seems too easy.

What can you or I possibly do to make Jesus’ sacrifice worth it?

To see someone take the blame for another person is bad enough. To see them suffer for our benefit is bracing. It is the ultimate reality check to look into Jesus’ eyes and not feel profound sadness intermixed with gratitude. If we don’t feel those emotions, something is wrong with us.

Jesus thought you and I were worth the pain, the suffering, the insults, the isolation. I wish I was as sure of that as He is. Can I make it up to Him? Not in a hundred lifetimes. But maybe there is a better way to say “thank you Jesus,” without words….

“Then He said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”

Luke 9:23

Jesus gave us the option of being there at the cross. Not to be crucified, but to accept the challenges that come with following Jesus – doing what sometimes feels like torture – forgiving and loving those who intentionally hurt and betray us, or helping others when we ourselves have great need, or being gentle and kind in a world that sometimes feels like anything but that.

The Son of God loved me enough to suffer indescribable suffering so that I could enjoy life in the Presence of and direct relationship with the Lord, and be able to welcome the Holy Spirit into me.

Coming full circle – will I get a crucifix? Yes. Not because I need the reminder of Jesus’ sacrifice, but because I want the reminder of Jesus’ sacrifice for me.

The Cross – were you there, are you there?

We are every time we try to take up Christ’s cross, try to lighten the cross of someone else, try to follow Jesus’ teachings, and try to live the lessons of the Cross – crucifix or one without our Savior on it – that it is the ultimate symbol of love and forgiveness.


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