Were You There?
Were You There: A Dramatic Reading From Peter's Perspective
By Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Were you there
that Passover week? No? Well let me tell you about it. I,
Peter, was with Jesus and my brother disciples and the women
disciples who came up with us to Jerusalem for the Feast.
We had just been to Bethany where Lazarus was raised from
the Dead and everyone was still so excited about that. Word
had gone out all over the place about Lazarus. Some of the
crowd that came to Jesus to hear him teach and see the
miracle worker found out that we were going up to Jerusalem
for Passover. Some of them even started whispering about
proclaiming Jesus as King-Messiah while we were there. I
know. I heard some of this talk. A part of me thrilled to
the idea. Jesus would triumph over those Romans and rid
this land of them. But the Jesus I knew didn't talk that
way. I remember him saying: "The Son of Man must undergo
great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief
priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be
raised." True it is that I didn't like those words and a
part of me must have denied them. But, nevertheless, I
remember feeling anxious about this trip. I had this sense
of foreboding. I wanted to get in and out of Jerusalem as
quickly as we could. It was far safer to be away from the
center of things. Out from under the watchful eyes.
It was a beautiful morning. We were up early at dawn to
break our fast and prepare for the walk into Jerusalem. We
would go to the city for the day and return to Mary and
Martha and Lazarus in Bethany at night. It was only about a
mile and a half, maybe two to walk up to Jerusalem's gates.
Jesus, as was his custom, was up before us and off by
himself to pray. When he returned to us he asked if we had
eaten. Then he sent a couple of us off to go ahead to
Bethphage at the foot of the Mount of Olives. He told them:
"Go into the village and as you enter it you will find tied
there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring
it here. If anyone asks you, 'Why are you untying it?' just
say this, 'The Lord needs it." And it was so. They brought
the colt back. I was starting to get a little wound up and
excited. This was truly different.
Jesus was going to ride up to Jerusalem like a nobleman on an ass, the symbol of peace. We spread our garments on the colt's back and
started walking. People began to tear off palm branches and
spread them on the ground before us. Shouts rang out like
they do at all the Feasts. "Hosanna! Hosanna! Blessed is
he who comes in the name of the Lord." Then they began to
sing and shout: "Blessed is the king who comes in the name
of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest
heaven." and "Blessed is the one who comes in the name of
the Lord -- the King of Israel." It was much, much later
when I recalled the words of the prophet Zechariah: "Rejoice
greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud O daughter
Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and
victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt,
the foal of a donkey." It was written of him in the Book
and it happened. I was there.
The events of that last week are still a jumble in my head.
Sometimes one thing leaps out at me; sometimes another.
Jesus did a lot of teaching that week. In the temple, as we
walked to and from the city and when we were back in Bethany
at night. He told us about things that didn't make sense
until afterwards. I guess we were a little slow to hear.
But he taught us so much that week that has stayed in our
I remember the first day of Unleavened Bread, the day on
which we had to sacrifice the Passover lamb. Jesus sent
John and I to prepare the meal. We made ready the upper
room where Jesus had said we would find it and checked every
corner to make sure no leaven was present. Then we bought
wine and herbs and unleavened bread. Next we went out and
purchased a lamb to take to the temple to offer the Passover
sacrifice at twilight. Everybody else in Jerusalem was
there for the same reason so it took no little time for the
lamb to be killed and the blood to be drained, then the body
skinned and cleaned and all the fat cut off and burned
before the lamb was roasted whole.
Passover in Jerusalem.
Noisy. All kinds of startled bleats and strange voices and
languages. Every one anxious for the Feast. Hot and smoky
with the smells of blood and burning fat. I was more than
ready to go outside into the cool evening air and back to
the Upper Room. Jesus and the others came in shortly after
we got back. Everyone was talking at once, telling about
their day. In the midst of the hubbub, it suddenly got
quiet. Jesus had taken off his outer robe and tied a towel
around his waist and was pouring water from the pitcher into
a basin. He went over to Philip, knelt down and washed his
feet. Philip sat there with a stunned look. Jesus turned
to Andrew and did the same. Around the room he went. When
he got to me, I stopped him and said, "Lord, are you going
to wash my feet?" He looked at me and said, very patiently,
"You do not know now what I am doing, but later on you will
understand." I couldn't believe it. "You will never wash
my feet," I almost shouted. Jesus, in that very calm and
commanding way of his just said, "Unless I wash you, you
have no share with me." That was all it took. Then my
impetuous side overcame me. The words were out before I
could think. "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and
my head!" Jesus called me back down to earth. "One who has
bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is
entirely clean. And you are all clean, though not all of
you." I heard those last words as if in a trance while
Jesus picked up first one foot and then the other and washed
away the dust and the grime they had picked up that day.
Washed them like a servant. When he was done he explained
to us why he had become our servant. "I have set you an
example, that you also should do as I have done to you.
Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their
master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent
them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do
them." The King of heaven kneeling at the feet of his
friends, washing their feet. I know. I was there.
When Jesus was finished things settled down and got back to
normal. We began to set the food out on the table and take
We sang one of the Passover hymns from the Hillel: "Praise the Lord! Praise, O servants of the Lord; praise the name of the Lord. Blessed be the name of the Lord from this time on and forevermore. From the rising of
the sun to its setting the name of the Lord is to be
praised." We remembered Israel in Egypt and the night the
Angel of the Lord passed over the firstborn of the Children
of Israel. We rejoiced in God who 'with his strong hand
brought us out of Egypt.' as we recounted the story in
answer to the question, "Why is this night different from
every other night?"
While we were doing thus Jesus became very troubled. His
somberness caught our attention. We became quiet and
waited. At last he said, "Very truly I tell you, one of you
will betray me." Heads shook as we turned to look at each
other. What did he mean? Who was he talking about? I
motioned to John who was sitting next to Jesus, to get him
to ask Jesus who he was speaking of. I saw John ask. I
strained to hear. "It is the one to whom I give this piece
of bread when I have dipped it in the dish." The hairs on
my body stood on end. I had goose bumps. The blood rushed
from my head as I saw Jesus pass the piece to Judas. Jesus
leaned over and spoke to him and he left. I was stunned.
John looked like he had been hit by an escaped bull.
Everyone else started murmuring about Judas going out to do
some of Jesus bidding. Nobody else seemed to have caught on
or heard. I felt disoriented. James must have told a joke.
The others beside him were laughing. Everyone but John and
Jesus and I resumed eating and talking. I didn't know what
to think about this. Had I imagined it? I didn't have a
lot of time to muse, though, as at that moment Jesus called
for quiet. He picked up one of the round flat Pita breads
and he blessed it. Then he broke it - tearing it in pieces
and handed it around to us saying: "Take, eat. This is my
body, which is broken for you. Do this in remembrance of
me." Afterwards in the same manner he took the cup in front
of him and he gave thanks and said: "This is my blood of the
new covenant which is poured out for many for the
forgiveness of sins. Do this, as often as you drink it, in
remembrance of me." as he passed the cup.
We all drank from the cup. I heard Jesus saying something about not drinking of the vine again until he drank it anew in the Kingdom of
God. It was a very special time. I know. I was there. Very shortly after supper we headed out across the Kidron Valley to the Garden on the Mount of Olives. We were singing hymns along the way but quietly as the night was getting later. I still remember the words of that psalm: "O
give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love
endures forever! Out of my distress I called on the Lord;
the Lord answered me and set me in a broad place. With the
Lord on my side I do not fear. What can mortals do to
me?... I was pushed so hard that I was falling, but the Lord
helped me. The Lord is my strength and my might; he has
become my salvation..." I often wonder if Jesus took
strength from those words during those last hours in the
Garden of Gethsemane where the olive trees grow. Sometimes
I think about him being surrounded by the trees and fruit
from which the anointing oil is made during those last
precious moments before he was taken like a criminal. While
we were walking along, Jesus told us: "You will all become
deserters; for it is written, 'I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep will be scattered.' But after I am raised up,
I will go before you to Galilee." That's when I claimed in
my pride and arrogance, "Even though all become deserters, I
will not." Jesus said to me, "Truly I tell you, this day,
this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny
me three times." I don't know why I had to argue with him,
what fantasies drove me to think that I was so powerful, so
courageous on my own, but I heard myself - I still hear
myself - say, vehemently: "Even though I must die with you,
I will not deny you." The rest of them said it with me. We
were so sure.
When we arrived at our usual place Jesus indicated that he
was going to pray. He said to all of us: "Pray that you may
not come into the time of trial. Sit here while I pray."
He motioned to James and John and myself to go on further
into the garden with him. He was very upset, very anxious,
pacing a little as he spoke.
"I am deeply grieved, even to
death; remain here and keep awake." He went a little
further and he threw himself on the ground. I watched him
do it as if in slow motion. I heard him ever so faintly but
I could just make it out: "Abba, Father, for you all things
are possible. If you are willing, remove this cup from me,
yet, not my will but yours be done." My emotions had been
stretched so much this week and this day that I suddenly
felt drowsy and before I knew it I had drifted off to sleep.
The next thing I knew was Jesus standing over me saying:
"Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour?
Keep awake and pray that you may not come to the tome of
trial; the spirit indeed is willing Simon, but the flesh is
weak." He went away again and prayed as before. I started
to pray myself and again I nodded my head in sleep. Jesus
woke us up. We didn't know what to say. I felt ashamed.
He went back to praying. We went back to sleeping. At last
he came again and he said to us, " are you still sleeping
and taking your rest? Enough! The hour is come; the Son of
Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us
be going. See, my betrayer is at hand."
While Jesus was speaking we could hear the commotion of a
crowd coming towards us. There was Judas with a bunch of
men carrying clubs and swords and the officers of the temple
police and the elders. Judas called out: "Rabbi!" and went
up to Jesus and kissed him. The men with clubs laid hold of
Jesus to arrest him. That's when everything got a little
crazy. I drew the sword I had hidden away and sliced off
the right ear of the high priest's slave. Jesus told me to
put my sword away. "Am I not to drink the cup that the
father has given me?" That's when they began to bind Jesus
with cords and the menace of the crowd grew. All of us
began to slip away as quickly as we could. I withdrew far
enough for safety and to watch. As they began to move away,
I followed to see where they were taking Jesus. This really
happened. I know. I was there.
Sure enough. They took Jesus to the high priest's house.
It looked like there was quite a crowd assembled. All the
lights were on inside and every few moments there was coming
and going from the inside. I managed to get in to the
courtyard and I went and sat, as nonchalantly as I could,
with the guards as they warmed themselves around the fire.
I tried to be inconspicuous. I just listened to everything.
One of the servant girls began to stare at me and came over
and she said, "You also were with Jesus, the man from
Nazareth." I looked at her and shook my head and said, "I
do not know or understand what you are talking about." She
went away and I breathed again. I walked out to the
forecourt to stay out of the way. The cock crowed. After a
while another servant-girl came along and she began to tell
the rest standing around there that: "This man was with
Jesus of Nazareth." I swore an oath and said, "I do not
know the man." That seemed to shut her up. A few moments
later one of those bystanders came up to me and said, "
Certainly you are one of them, for your accent betrays you.
You are a Galilean." That did it! I began to curse and I
swore an oath that I did not know this man! As I finished
speaking the cock crowed again. The Lord turned and looked
at me. Then I remembered. I remembered what Jesus had said
- that before the cock crowed twice I would deny him three
times. I broke. Great shuddering heaves seized me and the
tears blinded me as I tore out of the courtyard and down the
narrow streets. Running. Running I do not know where.
Sobbing. Heaving. Shamed to the core. Bitterly with bile
in my throat heaving great pangs of agony as I ran. I know.
I was there.
I don't remember the dawn. I just know that after a while I
realized that it was day. I was wandering around in a daze
in the lower city. I realized that I didn't know what was
happening. I was so caught up in my own grief that I forgot
all about Jesus and what he must be going through. I had to
find out. I started back up towards the High Priest's
house. When I got there someone told me that they had taken
him to Pilate, the Roman governor. That didn't sound good.
Nearing the Governor's palace I heard all kinds of noise and
shouting. The crowd was really worked up. I heard the
shouts: "Crucify him! Crucify him!" As I jostled through
the crowd I could see Jesus standing beside the governor.
He looked awful. A crown of thorns on his head. Blood on
his face. Pale like he was in shock. He seemed to sway as
he stood there. Pilate raised his hands. The crowd quieted
a little. "All right. I give you my decision. Barrabas
goes free. This 'King of the Jews, this Jesus, is to be
crucified." The crowd cheered. My heart sank.
It was then that I got really angry at God. Why, oh why
have you forsaken him? Why? Where are you God? This is
supposed to be your Son, the Messiah. Why does he have to
die? These thoughts and others swirled around inside. I
didn't even notice that the crowd seemed to be moving at
first. Then I heard the harsh shouts of the Roman soldiers
making a way through the crowds. Pressed up against my
neighbours I watched as I saw the wood of a cross come
towards me. Then I saw my Lord slumped under its weight not
six feet from me. He looked up at me and all my anger at
God dissipated. The last time I saw those eyes I had denied
him myself. Now those eyes, glazed with pain, were looking
into my soul. Why was it him and not me? I still didn't
understand. I was scared and I, too, was in shock.
Everything was happening so fast. My Lord was going to die.
Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Were you there?
Sometimes, it causes me to tremble. I know. I was there.
Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. Whoever has ears, let them hear.