Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?

There are no easy answers to the spiritual’s convicting questions.

I’m standing in the big house at a plantation in Nashville. It’s an impressive structure. Big white pillars. A long, wide porch is dotted with wooden rocking chairs—all of them filled now with tourists like us, people waiting for a tour guide to walk them around the grounds and recount the day-to-day life of a slaveholding family’s massive operation—all 5,400 acres run by 136 enslaved Black men, women, and children.

Still, inside the grand house, a tourist’s hand goes up and a wearying question gets asked. “But weren’t some slave owners good?” The room grows quiet. I pull my little grandchildren closer. But the tourist persists: “Didn’t they take good care of their slaves? After all, they’d invested in them.”

I’ve heard such questions before—perhaps we all have. Still, I stifle a groan. To feel better perhaps, some still yield to the common impulse to look away from horror, to sanitize history. To diminish the reality of evil.

But were you there?

Piercing Questions

This year, Passion Week will likely find our same tone-deaf singing of one of Christianity’s most boldly convicting songs. Most of us may sing it—with its piercing questions—without a lick of context or historical reflection. Sadly, some may sing, too, without deep pondering of the visceral realities of the Cross.

Yet it’s at the Cross, when we dare to look, that we see Jesus most needing us to be fully there. Except for his mother, Mary, and a few other faithful, stalwart women—who stayed during his entire ordeal—Christ comes to history’s most pivotal moment joined only by mocking Roman soldiers and two convicted thieves.

Just days before, …

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