Were You There?

Matthew 27:55-56 tells us that there were a group of women watching Jesus’ crucifixion from a distance:

“There were also many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.”

Jesus’ disciples had long since disappeared to save their own skins but these women, who had followed him from Galilee and who had ministered to Jesus, stayed close enough to watch what happened.

Many of our Lenten hymns urge us to imagine being right there at the cross watching what is happening.

Verse 1-3 of 456 “Were You There?”*
“Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?
Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?”

Verse 3 of 425 “When I survey the Wondrous Cross”
“See, from his head, his hands, his feet, sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet, or thorns compose so rich a crown?”

Verses 1-3 of 436 “Go to Dark Gethsemane”
Verse 1
“Go to dark Gethsemane, all who feel the tempter’s pow’r;
Your Redeemer’s conflict see, watch with him one little hour;
Turn not from his griefs away; learn from Jesus Christ to pray.

Verse 2
“Follow to the judgment hall, view the Lord of life arraigned,
Oh the wormwood and the gall! Oh the pangs his soul sustained!
Shun not suff’ring, shame or loss, learn from him to bear the cross.

Verse 3
“Calv’ry’s mournful mountain climb, there, adoring at his feet,
Mark that miracle of time, God’s own sacrifice complete,
“It is finished!” Hear him cry; learn from Jesus Christ to die.”

Verse 2 of 440 “Jesus I Will Ponder Now”
“Make me see your great distress, anguish and affliction;
Bonds, and stripes and wretchedness, and your crucifixion;
Make me see how scourge and rod, spear and nails did wound you;
How for them you died, O God, who with thorns had crowned you.”

Verse 1 of 451 “Stricken, Smitten and Afflicted”
“Stricken, smitten and afflicted, see him dying on the tree!
‘Tis the Christ, by man rejected; yes, my soul, ‘tis he’tis he!
‘Tis the long-expected prophet, David’s son, yet David’s Lord;
Proofs I see sufficient of it; ‘tis the true and faithful word.”

Verse 1 of 453 “Upon the Cross Extended”
“Upon the cross extended see, world your Lord suspended.
Your Savior yields his breath.
The Prince of Life from heaven himself has freely given
To shame and blows and bitter death.”

Verse 2 of 423 “Jesus, Refuge of the Weary”
“Do we pass that cross unheeding, breathing no repentant vow;
Though we see you wounded, bleeding, see your thorn-encircled brow?
Yet your sinless death has brought us life eternal, peace and rest;
Only what your grace has taught us, calms the sinner’s deep distress.”

So again and again these great Lenten hymns urge us to see with our mind’s eye our Savior’s great distress.

Of course nothing could get more real than Paul’s words in Galatians 2:20:
“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.” The Apostle Paul pictured himself on the cross with Jesus. Not that Paul was crucified for our sins too but when Paul realized that Jesus died for him, his old life of sin was over and he wanted to live for Jesus in everything.

Seeing our Lord’s suffering in our minds through a hymn or depicted in artwork impresses on us the great sacrifice he made for our sins.

The women who are mentioned in Matthew were looking on at all these things. It must have made quite an impression on their minds to see all of our Lord’s suffering. Later it says these women were also there when Jesus was placed in the tomb by Joseph of Arimathea.

Today, the closest we can get to a visual reminder of Jesus’ death is in Holy Communion. As Jesus promised, with the bread and wine of this blessed sacrament we receive the true body and blood of our Savior that was given and shed for us on the cross for the forgiveness of all our sins.

It is equally important to imagine being there at the empty tomb. And our hymns speak of this as well:

“Were you there when God raised him from the tomb?” (456, verse 4)

“Early hasten to the tomb, where they lay his lifeless clay.
All is solitude and gloom, who has taken him away?
Christ is ris’n he meets our eyes, Savior teach us so to rise.” (436, verse 4)

All of Jesus’ pain and suffering were over. And he promises the same for us. Through faith in Jesus, someday our graves will be open and empty.

And we can imagine being there in our heavenly home, after all the suffering of this world is over. All made possible for us sinners because of what Jesus did on the cross.

*Note: Hymns words and numbers are from Lutheran Service Book, Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis

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