were you there

by Jeff Rainwater, 3 March 2017, Cheyenne, WY

Were you there
that fateful day
our Shepherd died
as the Bandit went free,
when the mob
chose a rebel
over the King?

What lies were
whispered in your ear,
what promises made,
that turned hearts
from One who fed
and healed and forgave
to a man of violence?

Were you standing
on the side shaking
your head yet afraid
to speak? Or did you
find yourself convinced
to raise, in support,
cruel Barabbas’ name?

And please say
your lips did not
utter, your voice
was not heard
to proclaim,
in anger,
Crucify!
Crucify!
Crucify!

Were you there?

I only ask
because this road
my people walk today
seems all too
familiar.


As Holy Week approaches we turn our eyes toward Jerusalem, toward Golgotha, and after a time, toward an empty tomb. On Good Friday, many of us will find ourselves singing that well-known Negro spiritual, Were You There. It moves me every single time. I must also admit it troubles me. In particular, one word troubles me — they. “Were you there when
they (not I, not we) crucified my Lord.” Can I sing ‘they’ assured that I would’ve chosen Jesus over Barrabas? If I was there, would I have protested, or have clucked my tongue at the injustice of it all, or would the words ‘crucify!’ have passed my lips? Can I even feel assured, knowing the end of the story as I do, that I am on the right side of justice today? I’m not so sure I can. So I offer this poem as an alternative, a confession even, for those of us who may tremble before the Cross, or those of us who should, knowing the moral ground below our own feet is never so solid as we would claim. Lord Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner.

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