Then He said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with Me.”
“Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” we sang slowly, slowly, as if each word was weary with sorrow. I linger in the sanctuary after the service as others leave, sitting here until all is silent. I know my disposition to distraction, to hear the familiar story and simply move on, unmoved in spirit. I want the words to sink in.
I see a cross laid on its side behind the pulpit. The wood is rough, thick, heavy. Black and purple cloths adorn its length in a spiraling shroud; the dark fabric drapes off the top and floats down, fluttering barely above the floor. An oversized ring of interwoven thorns hangs without a head to prick and crown at the pinnacle of the center-beam. “Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?” we sang, and I wonder at the word “spiritual” noted in the hymnal. There is not much distance, it seems, between the cross and a lynching tree in the minds of slaves singing a suffering hope.
“For God so loved the world,” we read in the Gospel, but how often do we stop to consider what it means? As any mother or father of a wayward child knows, to love even one person is enough for devastating heartbreak. What, then, must it mean for God to love the world? It means at least this: He gave His only Son. And this giving, we must remember, is a flesh and blood suffering unto death. They spit in Jesus’ face, struck, slapped, and stripped Him. “And it was the third hour when they crucified Him” (Mark 15:25). Human beings possess an awful capacity for cruelty, and I am not exempt.
If God loves the world—and we rightly confess that He does—then He knows the truth of the world in all its overwhelming beauty and horror, entered into the sorrow, suffered, and died the curse of our sin. “Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble . . . tremble . . . tremble.” Sometimes it doesn’t. So I remain here and watch for Sunday to come.