I have been posting each Friday on one of the old hymns/gospel songs of the church. The hymn selected this week is very appropriate as we are in the Lent season looking forward to Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday.
Almost every hymnal published in the last 50 years or so has this song in its collection. No one knows exactly who should get credit for the song but it is believed to be rooted in the African-American spirituals.
Each stanza asks a question:
- Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
- Were you there when they nailed him to the cross?
- Were you there when the sun refused to shine?
- Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?
- Were you there when the stone was rolled away?
These questions are, of course, rhetorical questions. Obviously none of us were there when Jesus was crucified or rose from the grave.
These questions are meant to help us recall those events that the disciples wrote about. At this time of year, these questions are good for us to ponder as we remember what this season is all about.
For slaves in America, this song carried even more meaning. It comforted them to remember that Jesus Christ knew their suffering and just as God was with Jesus on the cross, He was with them in the midst of their great suffering. They could truly relate to the pain and sorrow the first verses of this song portray. The hope that Jesus rose again no doubt gave them hope that some day the chains of slavery would be lifted and they would know true freedom.
Many music stars have recorded this song including Johnny Cash, Phil Keaggy, Marion Williams, Harry Belafonte, and Neil Tennant.
As you listen to this song, I hope you will take a few minutes to reflect on the questions asked and remember the great price Jesus paid for our spiritual freedom.
“Salvation is free, but it came at a great cost.”
If you have missed them, check out my other posts on the old gospel songs/hymns.