WERE YOU THERE?
I remember reading a short story – the title escapes me, as does the author – and being captivated by it.
It’s a science fiction story and concerns a travel agency set in the future.
Now, this travel agency deals with the extra-ordinary: it caters for people who have become blasé about going to distant exotic lands, whether on this planet or elsewhere.
So, what they offer is this: travel to anywhere in history – an opportunity to take part in great world events as they actually happen.
This story concerns a large group of tourists who have decided – through this time-travel expedition – to visit Jerusalem at the time of Christ.
In the twinkling of an eye and the press of a button and the throw of a switch, they are transported to the Holy City……and find themselves arriving on Good Friday.
They discover themselves looking up at Pontius Pilate from his balcony, offering the crowd the choice of Barabbas or Jesus of Nazareth for execution.
Not wanting to appear conspicuous, the time travellers feel that they ought not deviate from history, and so start to chant “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
And so, it is done.
But, suddenly, one of these visitors happens to look around and notices to his shock and horror that the mob crying out for Christ’s crucifixion is made up entirely of his fellow tourists.
Then he glances up at the windows of the houses round about him and sees that all the devout Jews are indoors silently praying
Whatever we make of that fictional story – apart from its logic, its historicity or its theology – note this theme, this recurring theme: somehow WE are implicated in the crucifixion.
This is the theme of the old spiritual, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord”
And it’s the theme of many a hymn, and many a sermon.
Where you there when they crucified my Lord?
We don’t like this. We would rather be counted among the crowd on Palm Sunday cheering and applauding that same Lord as he entered Jerusalem in triumph.
And if we could, we would have.
But human nature is fickle. When things are bright and beautiful, and the sun shines on us, and all’s well with the world, we’re content – indeed happy – certainly without complaint, and God is glorified and worshipped and adored.
But when we feel let down, or misunderstand the situation, or if the world appears to be kicking us in the teeth – where then is that God?
It’s easy to change opinions, abandon principles, abandon faith itself.
We go with the crowd. We go the way that seems right for the time. We really can be fair-weather Christians.
And with that comes the very sins that crucified Christ – amongst them, selfishness and self-interest, corruption of ideals and abandonment of principles, hypocrisy and expediency
And the crowd that shouted ‘Hosanna’ when the occasion demanded it, prompted it – turns its cry to that of ‘Crucify’ because it suited them at the time.
In which group shall we be numbered? The Judas people who still betray him when he doesn’t satisfy their selfish agenda? The Pontius Pilate people who dismiss him when what he stands for contradicts expediency and pleasing the crowd? The folk – like those in the crowd – who distance themselves from him when following him requires transforming self and society?
Or with those who honoured him on that Palm Sunday and continue to do so not just every Sunday but on every day of their life, offering him they dedication of their whole selves in his service and to his greater glory?
And as the hymn “At the name of Jesus” puts it:
“In your hearts enthrone him;
There let him subdue
All that is not holy,
All that is not true:
Crown him as your captain
In temptation’s hour;
Let his will enfold you
In its light and power”