Were you there?

stained glass in a Cathedral in Belgium

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble…

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?


Were you there? Of course not. None of us were. And yet…

The Black Christ in the Metropolitan Cathedral in Mexico City

This song is borne of suffering. It comes from the soul of a slave who identifies strongly with Jesus who was “despised and rejected by men” and who suffered at the hands of authorities. African American slaves understood what it was to be beaten, whipped, abused, spit upon and die. This is the ultimate “been there, done that” experience.

And yet…

There’s that “tremble” word. Even the slave recognizes that comparisons only go so far. None of us will ever be able to say that we know exactly what Jesus went through because none of us are fully human and fully Divine. None of us have the sins of eternity thrust upon us or the responsibility of reconciling all of creation with its Maker. Even the slave who has experienced so much horror has to tremble before that reality… it almost makes me think that I, a privileged, white person, shouldn’t ever sing this song.

And yet…

This song is a gift. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” – Romans 3:23. We are all slaves when it comes right down to it. This song is the expression of a slave, imagining what it might have been like to be there when Jesus did that redemptive work on the cross. We should tremble, all of us, because of what the rest of that sentence in Romans says: “…and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Makes me shake in my boots.

When you come to the Good Friday Blues service, you’ll hear a version of this song that is quite different from the traditional spiritual. It’s a slow groove melody that honours the roots of the original but is, perhaps, even more hypnotic in its rhythm, giving you as a listener an opportunity to really meditate and enter the scene in your mind. As you envision that scene, what makes you tremble?


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