As we continue to look for ourselves in the story of the Cross - and continue to insist that we simply could not be the soldiers nor the thieves - there is one other option for discovering our place on Golgotha: the unpresent.
The truth is there are not a lot of "people" stories once Jesus is condemned. There is no, Meanwhile, back at the home of Simon.... The attention in the Scriptures turns solely to Jesus, as it should, but we cannot escape the fact that there are but a few others who are present at this tremendous event. The soldiers and thieves, as we discussed yesterday. John and Mary make a cameo appearance, but we aren't even told much about them at this point, either. At Jesus' arrest, we are told that even the disciples scattered.
It's not that the people aren't watching. Maybe they're not. Or maybe from a hill just outside the city, the shadow of the Cross falls in such a way that they can't help but see. It's hard to believe that a region so enamored with the Son of David would not be at least curious of the spectacle, although given what we know about how often the people actually thanked Him for being amazing and healing them, it could be that they wanted very little to do with Him, lest they be arrested as conspirators or sympathizers. After all, Jesus was dying a political death; best not to be caught on the wrong side of such a struggle.
It's impossible really to know where the people are, what they were thinking, how they were justifying being where they were when this Jesus was where He was. I imagine we could ask a hundred of them and come up with a hundred different stories.
But what about us?
That's the real question. That's the one we have to be willing to answer. Where are we while the Son of Man hangs on the Cross? Where are we when this Teacher who walked our streets is condemned? Where are we when the shadows of the Cross fall over the city? What are we whispering to one another while the Son of God cries out His forsakenness?
And why...why aren't we there? Why are we...unpresent?
It's strange to me that this central event of the Christian faith, this turning point of the doctrine of redemption and justification and salvation, this crux of history is the most talked about and least experienced of all the moments of Christian history. We're far more comfortable sitting in the First Church of Acts or under the broom plant of the prophet than we are bearing witness to the sacrifice of the Lamb.
When we talk about this moment in Christian history, we talk about it like it is the aside, like it's the story that's taking place away from the main action. We talk about God and about the church as though it's center stage, and then we say, Meanwhile, on a hill just outside the city, Jesus was dying for our sins. Or something. And we were busy in the marketplace, checking out the latest harvest of fine grapes.
We talk about the Cross like we don't really know what was happening there, and the sad truth is...we don't. We don't know what was happening on the Cross because we don't bother to look. We don't want to trouble our hearts with the details. We can't bear to bear witness to the horrific tragedy, even for the sake of the tremendous glory, and so we talk about the Cross in whispers, in rumors, in afterthoughts. We know what was happening out there was pretty amazing, but we don't bother to see it. And so all we can do is tell stories. And our stories don't do it justice...not by a long shot.
Being a thief or a soldier is starting to look better and better, isn't it? At least the sinners, at least the betrayers, were there. At least they know what really happened on that hill. All we have is speculation and shadows.
We have to be willing to be present at the Cross, whatever it takes. Whatever it means. We have to be willing to see the tragedy unfold, to grieve the horrendousness in the same breath that we embrace the glory. It's the only way we can ever really tell the story of Jesus. It's the only way we can share testimony of the Cross. It's the only way that this story, this amazing story, truly becomes part of our story. When we dare to be there, on a hill outside the city...at the foot of the Cross, rather than just in the shadow of it.