Monday, April 13, 2009

Were You There

“Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”

Thus go the lyrics of a Negro spiritual that many have come to accept as a song of remembrance of the Lord’s suffering and death. I never understood it. I always thought it was a silly song based upon emotionalism. Even though I do not remember my pastors ever addressing this issue, even though they permitted this song to be sung in the divine service, even as a child I was uncomfortable with what I perceived as the focus of the song.

I’ve tried researching it, and what information I have found seems to confirm that the focus is awry. As a child I always heard a sense of blaming in the song. I always heard a sense of “Oh, how terrible that they would do this to the Lord Jesus!” From what I have been able to determine, this is at least a part of what is meant in this song, but more to the point is the expression of thinking of oneself as persecuted and abused and looking to what was done to Jesus in a “poor me, poor us” kind of relationship. It seems to be in the line of “misery loves company” sort of perspective with a bit of “Oh how I love Jesus” mixed in.

The lyrics of the song as it is included in the LC-MS hymnal, Lutheran Worship, can be viewed here. The tune can be heard and three stanzas viewed here. Some information regarding the origins of the “spirituals” is available here and here. Other sources are available as well.

As I reflected upon this song this season of Lent and in the entrance into the season of Easter, I thought about the answer to the question, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” The answer is, “Yes! I was most certainly there.”

I did not nail Jesus to the tree. I did not beat him or spit upon Him. I did not lay Him in the tomb. I did not stand there crying, either. But I was there. For Jesus took my complete identity as Sinner. He took my name of condemnation and disgrace. He took my guilt and shame. He took my punishment. He cried out in my place of feeling as forsaken by God. Oh yes! I was truly there.

I have been crucified with Jesus through Baptism. In the person of Jesus, I was crucified, dead and buried. And again in connection with Baptism I rose again the Third Day unto new life in Christ. I now walk in the newness of that life that is in Him. I partake of His body and blood and am renewed in Him regularly.

What appears to be the basic premise of this song is weak and shallow at best. Nevertheless, with the right understanding, the question is one worthy of answering with the answer that God Himself proclaims in the divine liturgy. The answer is not one of “Oh, how sad that this was done to Jesus and how sad that I must suffer many things in this world.” but of “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.” (Rev 5:12) And again, “Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.” (Rev 5:13)


No comments: