Were You There When They Crucified My Lord? (Trad.)

This article was first publised in the April edition of our Parish magazine. You can read it again here:

It is thought that this Easter hymn was written in the 19th century by African-American slaves in the plantations of southern America. It was first published in the 1899 edition of Old Plantation Hymns, and in 1940 was included in the Episcopal Church Hymnal. It is now commonly sung throughout the world, and has been recorded by some seriously famous singers (including Johnny Cash and Harry Belafonte) and was a favourite of Mahatma Ghandi.

This song has also been arranged for two voices by Sing for Pleasure, and it was this version that I had planned to introduce to Maggie’s Music Makers this Lent. Maybe next year. Meanwhile, the text is:

Were you there when they crucified my Lord? (Were you there?)
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
O sometimes it causes me to tremble! tremble! tremble!
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Were you there when they nail’d him to the tree? (Were you there?)
Were you there when they nail’d him to the tree?
O sometimes it causes me to tremble! tremble! tremble!
Were you there when they nail’d him to the tree?

Were you there when they pierced him in the side? (Were you there?)
Were you there when they pierced him in the side?
O sometimes it causes me to tremble! tremble! tremble!
Were you there when they pierced him in the side?

Were you there when the sun refused to shine? (Were you there?)
Were you there when the sun refused to shine?
O sometimes it causes me to tremble! tremble! tremble!
Were you there when the sun refused to shine?

Were you there when He rose in majesty? (Were you there?)
Were you there when He rose in majesty?
O sometimes it causes me to tremble! tremble! tremble!
Were you there when He rose in majesty?

Was any of us actually there? No. Many people were though, and some are named in the Gospel accounts: Mary, supporting her first born as he is humiliated prior to his brutal execution, Mary’s sister was there as was Mary the wife of Cleophas; Mary Magdalene was there, as was Mary, mother of James and Joses, Salome, also Zebedee’s wife; probably fearing for their own lives the only disciple present was the one identified as “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. Simon of Cyrene was there, and forced to carry the cross for part of the journey to Golgotha. There were also the two convicted criminals crucified on either side of Jesus. How they must all have trembled.

I wasn’t there. But I have been there. Back in 2017 I visited the Holy Land and literally walked the Way of the Cross. It was a long way, up steep hills and narrow, crowded streets. I trembled.

You can listen to this song and sing along here: tinyurl.com/rvm2q8a

Carol P


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