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It is a notorious hymn sung throughout churches across various denominations during Holy Week. The lyrics repeat a series of question, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Were you there when they nailed him to the tree? Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?” When this choir began to sing this hymn on Palm Sunday, the haunting questions took on a new timbre of urgency. Without diminishing the singularity of Christ’s crucifixion, it is not difficult to see that Jesus Christ — our God who was executed — continues to be crucified in our midst.
In Jesus the Liberator, Jon Sobrino writes, “Galilee is the setting of Jesus’ historical life, the place of the poor and the little ones. The poor of this world—the Galilee of today—are where we encounter the historical Jesus and where he is encountered as liberator. And this Galilee is also where the risen Christ who appears to his disciples will show himself as he really is, as the Jesus we have to follow and keep present in history: the historical Jesus, the man from Nazareth, the person who was merciful and faithful to his death on the cross, the perennial sacrament in this world of a liberator God” (Jesus the Liberator, 273).
The lives, sufferings, and death of the marginalized, the persecuted, the oppressed illuminate the meanning of Christ’s own life, suffering, and death (and vice versa). We cannot fully understand one without the other. In the words of Sturla Stalsett, the crucified people are an “actual, i.e. historical, manifestation of the crucified body of Christ.” Therefore, Stalsett continues, “anyone who looks for the manifestation of Christ in our time should look to this particular part of humanity, usually forgotten and disregarded” (Stalsett, The crucified and the Crucified, 163).
The following litany is adapted from The Coventry Litany of Reconciliation.
All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
The hatred which divides nation from nation, race from race, class from class,
GOD OUR FATHER, FORGIVE
The covetous desires of people and nations to possess what is not their own
GOD OUR MOTHER, FORGIVE
The greed which exploits the work of human hands and lays waste the earth
LORD CHRIST, FORGIVE
Our indifference to the plight of the imprisoned, the homeless, the refugee,
GOD OUR REDEEMER, FORGIVE
The lust which dishonors the bodies of women, children, and men.
GOD OUR SUSTAINER, FORGIVE
The pride which leads us to trust in ourselves and not in God
Be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Let us bec attentive to Christ crucified in our midst, and let us work for the justice that will put an end to the systematic injustices which crucify them in the first place.
In a recent segment of Catholic Women Preach, M. Shawn Copeland says, : “If our God so suffers, is so exposed to the brutality and power of the world, what shall become of us? It is a daring and daunting theological prospect—for God and for us. For as we believe that our God suffers, we who confess, who worship, who love are called to a share in the suffering of Jesus, a share in the suffering of the peoples of our world.”