Were You There?


Jesus Before the Priests from The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision by F. Douglas Blanchard

Jesus Before the Priests from The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision by F. Douglas Blanchard

by Kate Henley Averett


Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

It’s Good Friday, I’m 11 or 12, perhaps. I love this day, not just because we get it off from school, but because there is just something so different about Holy Week, Friday being the strangest and most disorienting of them all. I know there must be something special about it if it’s the only day of the entire year that nobody celebrates Mass. As usual, I’m confused, and made somewhat uncomfortable, by the ritual of venerating the cross. We process forward and take turns kissing the wood, something that feels like it should be private yet is performed in public, sanctioned and affirmed by the assembly; some of the women are visibly crying. There’s almost a cultural disconnect – such open displays of emotion have been rare in my stoic Massachusetts upbringing. We sing this hymn, slowly and mournfully, that I love. Were you there when they crucified my Lord? It’s beautiful, but confusing too – of course I wasn’t there, and neither were any of these people who I watch kiss the cross my own lips had brushed moments earlier. But the women crying – do they understand somehow, what it was like to be there? I try to imagine the scene, to put myself there, to watch them crucify my Lord, nail him to the tree, lay him in the tomb, but it’s so hard to imagine. Still, as the song swells, waves of emotion I don’t fully understand break over me.

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

My feet are aching as we stand for the long, long Gospel reading. I just walked 13 miles with other high schoolers in the youth group at the Greater Lowell Walk for Hunger, and I’ve got blisters and sore, swollen feet. I shift uncomfortably from foot to foot as I struggle to follow along in the Missalette so I know when to chime in with the rest of the congregation, playing the part of the crowd. “Release Barrabas,” we say, “We have no king but Caesar.” And then the part I hate: “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Why do they make us say that? And why do some people say it so enthusiastically? We don’t want to see Jesus suffer, do we? We aren’t like those people in the crowd, right? And then it hits me – statistically speaking, anyway, if we’d been there, most of us would’ve been in the crowd. The way the story’s told there were only a handful of people who were supporting Jesus, and we couldn’t all be in that small group of women. Every year when we sing that hymn and I try to imagine being there, I’ve always seen it from a distance, like I’m watching a film. But if I’d really been there when they crucified my Lord, where would I have been? Would I have been in the crowd of people, shouting for him to be crucified?

Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.

Holy Week is rapidly approaching and the seven of us, students in HDS 2984: Passion Play: History, Theology and Performance, are working frantically to get our play together in time. It’s a different sort of play – non-linear, with shifting characters and perspectives – and we’re making it intentionally uncomfortable and disorienting for ourselves and our audience. There are moments in several of the scenes where I’m really working to embody Jesus as he’s presented in Mark’s Gospel. I chose Mark specifically because of how physical his descriptions of Jesus’ last days are – there are moments when I’m reading, especially about Gethsemane, when I know – really know, in my body – what Mark’s Jesus is going through, because the anxiety, the fear, the hurt and betrayal, I’ve felt it before, too. During Holy Week, as we perform, and there are moments when I’m overcome and I begin to tremble, even to cry. The question, “Were you there?” takes on new meaning as I place myself in a different “there” in the story – the “there” of Jesus’ experience.

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

That same semester, in another seminar, I’m immersed in liberation theology. I’m practically living and breathing Gutierrez and Sobrino as my classmates and I wrestle with (and argue about) the ways that liberation theology is, or should be, being applied throughout the world today. I’m excited to finally have a forum in which to work academically on queer liberation theology, yet through all the theory and theology, my mind keeps being drawn to Lawrence King, an openly gay, gender non-conforming eighth grader, who was shot to death at school only weeks earlier. He’s a heartbreaking reminder to me that our Lord continues to be crucified every day, when societal injustice and institutionalized prejudice lead to unimaginable suffering and tragic death. And where are we? I realize that I don’t have to be in the crowds shouting “God hates fags!” or any other modern-day form of “Crucify him!” to find myself in the story. Just by being complacent – by not speaking up when I could – I’m there. Because really, is silence in the face of a racist or homophobic comment that different from Peter’s denial, “I do not know this man you speak of”? I realize that, for all its power and poignancy, “Were you there?” is only part of the question, and a further step is needed: Are you there when they crucify my Lord?

Kate Henley Averett is a big proponent of confusion, discomfort, and disorientation as sites of productive spiritual exploration, which is probably why Good Friday is her favorite day of the liturgical year.


3 Responses

  1. Kate–Another grand piece! Our Lord is crucified day after day, and we are all there, sometimes silent, sometimes shouting “Crucify” and at other times helping Him carry his cross. A struggle, to be sure. Thanks for this Good Friday meditation.

  2. I too am a believer that in order to sanctify our faith, we must endure the harsh truths of the events that took place in order for each and every one of us can have a chance at true bliss when Christ calls us to his gates. We must be reminded (visually through things like The Passion Play), musically (like St. Matthew’s Passion) or through the words of the local preacher that Christ did die for our sins. Sometimes it is sugar-coated through the story itself, but when you see it being re-enacted with the crown of thorns, cross, and crucifixion, it really gets ingrained into one’s soul what was done for us.

  3. Hello

    I’ve just uploaded two rare interviews with the Catholic activist Dorothy Day. One was made for the Christophers [1971]–i.e., Christopher Closeup– and the other for WCVB-TV Boston [1974].

    Day had begun her service to the poor in New York City during the Depression with Peter Maurin, and it continued until her death in 1980. Their dedication to administering to the homeless, elderly, and disenfranchised continues with Catholic Worker homes in many parts of the world.

    Please post or announce the availability of these videos for those who may be interested in hearing this remarkable lay minister.

    They may be located here:


    Thank you

    Dean Taylor

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