“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him might not perish
but might have eternal life.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,
but that the world might be saved through him.” John 3:16-17
Yesterday we heard these words as a part of our Gospel reading at Mass. It was the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross and hearing these familiar verses emphasized just how important the cross is. Before Christ’s crucifixion, the cross was a symbol of death and cruelty. And if the story ended at the crucifixion and death of Jesus, the cross would mean nothing. But the story did not end! Jesus rose from the dead and conquered sin and death, forever opening the way to eternal life with Him and the Father in heaven. The crucifix and the empty cross serve as symbols of the immense love God has for us.
As we were preparing to receive communion during Mass, I opened my hymnal to join in our communion song and was surprised to see the music choice: “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?” While I love the hymn, I am used to singing it solely during the Lenten season. But as I listened and joined my voice in our sung prayer, I could not think of a better song for the moment.
During Lent, I sing this song and find myself meditating on what Our Lord went through at Calvary. Meditating on His sorrow and pain and the incredible fact that He did it all willingly for us. Certainly a worthwhile and emotional meditation, but it was in a past tense. The song lyrics, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” drew my meditation to the past. Singing this hymn outside its typical Lenten context and during Communion gave it a whole new meaning.
“When you look at the Crucifix, you understand how much Jesus loved you then. When you look at the Sacred Host you understand how much Jesus loves you now.” – Blessed Mother Teresa
The Holy Eucharist is a beautiful mystery beyond comprehension or explanation. It is the full presence of Christ, of His crucifixion and death. It encompasses His love in a way we cannot fathom. This most Blessed Sacrament brings us to Calvary, to the foot of the cross, to our Savior in a way far more personal than we might even realize.
The Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross draws our attention to the beauty and love that is held within the cross. By singing this hymn, it connected this wonderful Feast to the Eucharist in a way I was not anticipating but that truly resonated with me. The love that is spoken of in John 3:16, the love that resulted in Our Lord’s sacrifice to us in the crucifixion, the love that we see in the empty cross as a symbol of the Resurrection and conquering of evil and death, that love is still present to us here today. We can feel the love of the Lord within us, surrounding us, and in others. That love is felt so strongly and shared so miraculously with us through the Blessed Sacrament.
“Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Oh sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble. Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”
While we may not have been there some 2,000 years ago for the actual crucifixion, through the mystery of the Eucharist, we are united with Christ in that moment. And that surely is a cause to tremble.