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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

memories.

 

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

our places. 

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.

NIV Listen

 Philippians 1:4 (NKJ)
always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy,
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