“Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”
This is the question raised in the Negro spiritual of the same song title: “Were you there?” The answer to this disturbing question is “Yes!” Yes, WE were there. The women were there., and as equally fascinating is who was NOT. Therefore, let us consider this query: Why is the real story of the Cross NOT properly told, preached or taught, as a cherished tradition of the Christian church?
Religious traditions are interesting because while tradition is imperative, it often comes with its own agenda. Some biblical narratives are selected, preached, and taught over and over again, while others are ignored and ultimately obscured to the point it takes serious theological digging to re-discover the stories and their power.
Amazingly, while the Cross is lifted each Sunday (especially in the Black Church as a thunderous conclusion to the sermon), the women who occupied the sacred space at the foot of the Cross are forgotten, sometimes even at Easter time. In an eclipsed presentation to us, as students of the Bible and congregants of the Church, we find ourselves exposed to skewed religious traditions without proper explanation, and this is a dangerous place to land.
As a great preacher once said, “Any time birth is mentioned in the Bible, women HAD TO BE PRESENT because you can’t have a birth without the women.”** If one considers the birth of the Church to be at the Cross, [instead of the Upper Room], where the community of women gathered to support Jesus in His final passion, then the Church finds its genesis at the Cross instead. Curiously, this sacred and pivotal event is often ignored, especially after Easter, as we are rushed to the book of Acts, where women are literally written right out of the Upper Room encounter.
[**Bishop Donald O. Clay – Petra Ministries – YOUTUBE]
So, who were these women who ran toward the Cross, as “others” ran away? When we unpack this question properly, we will find the Mothers of THE Movement – The most important movement of the globe.
And now, THE WORD from Our Sponsor………………………………………………………………………………………………………….
Matthew 27: 55 – “There were many there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him. Among them were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.”
Mark 15: 39-41 – “When the centurion who was facing him saw how he breathed his last he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” There were also women looking on from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of the younger James and of Joses, and Salome. These women had followed him when he was in Galilee and ministered to him. There were also many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.”
Luke 23: 27-29 – “A large crowd of people followed Jesus, including many women who mourned and lamented him. Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep instead for yourselves and for your children, for indeed, the days are coming when people will say, “Blessed are the barren, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed.”
John 19: 25-26 – “Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala.”
The Cross of Jesus holds a powerful irony for humanity – it is at once divinely empowering for some and fully pedestrian for others. The Cross can be a sacred lifestyle, or it can simply be an ornament around one’s neck. The choice is yours and mine, as it was for the women who made their way to the Cross and remained there until Jesus’ body was taken down and buried in a borrowed tomb.
Regardless of what gospel is read to understand the passion event, the women mentioned in all four of the gospel records were the stewards of the Cross, and this undeniable fact is something the Church has ignored and obscured for centuries. When we carefully unpack the passion narratives, we find God rights the wrong of Jesus’ crucifixion BEFORE the Resurrection, as God gathers the beloved community of the women around Jesus to minister to him in his passion and death. While Church tradition teaches the genesis of the Church occurred in the Upper Room, known to us as The Pentecost, it is clear when we carefully consider Jesus’ crucifixion, death, and resurrection, God built the community of Jesus at the Cross, where the women kept vigil. The importance of this observation cannot be understated: The church of Jesus Christ was first formed by God at The Cross with women in full attendance!
Why is this observation of the utmost importance? It is vital because it reminds us of what Jesus formed in His earthly ministry and mission: PARTNERSHIP between Himself and women, who were wholly rejected by patriarchal religious traditions and still are. While the current Christian church is 84% male led, 85% of the church pew is women***, so very little has changed since the times of Jesus.
[statistics quoted from Henry Louis Gates – “The Black Church: This is Our Story, This is Our Song.” – aired Tuesday, February 9th, 2021]
In the entirety of the gospel corpus, we are reminded that God, who could of used the eleven male disciples, instead chose “many” women to stand near and at the Cross, risking their lives to do so, as witnesses to the redemptive power of an Almighty God. These women were chosen for the most divine of assignments – to minister to the Messiah Jesus, and to bear witness to His ultimate sacrifice for humanity. These “many women,” those named and those unnamed, became the mothers of a new movement called “The Church.” With God as The Conductor, their unyielding devotion and courage was an essential part of the finished work of Jesus at the Cross.
Again, as we consider the lament of the Negro Spiritual – “Were You There?”
“Were you there when they nailed Him to the Cross?” YES, THE WOMEN WERE THERE!
“Were you there when they laid Him in the tomb?” YES, THE WOMEN WERE THERE!
“Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” YES, THE WOMEN WERE THERE!
And, because WE WERE THERE, and we still are here [in the Church] supporting the ministry and mission of Jesus, it becomes our responsibility to know OUR STORY and to tell OUR STORY to others – just like the women did who took the story from the tomb and gave it to the world.
It is Our story. It is Our history. If we do not tell it, preach it, and teach it, it remains obscured and buried. Most of all the world we never fully realize the divinely intentioned movement of God, who chose daughters to usher into existence one of the greatest offerings ever bestowed upon humanity – the presence and power of Jesus, the Christ, as expressed in His church.
To God be the glory for the WONDERFUL THINGS GOD HAS DONE!
Questions for our discussion and consideration
What are some of the characteristics these women shared in order to complete their divine assignment?
How were these characteristics different from those that are rooted in ego, narcissism, and competition?
What are some of the means by which we can tell Our Story to others, in and outside of the Church walls? Explain.