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377. Were You There

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1 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?

2 Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?
Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?
Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?

3 Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?
Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?
Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?

4 Were you there when God raised him from the tomb?
Were you there when God raised him from the tomb?
Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when God raised him from the tomb?

Text Information
First Line: Were you there when they crucified my Lord
Title: Were You There
Publication Date: 1987
Meter: 10 10 14 10
Scripture: Matthew 27:55-56; Luke 23:55
Topic: Cross of Christ; Suffering of Christ; Songs for Children: Hymns (2 more...)
Source: Afro-American spiritual
Language: English
Tune Information
Name: WERE YOU THERE
Harmonizer: Charles Winfred Douglas (1940)
Meter: 10 10 14 10
Key: E♭ Major
Source: Afro-American spiritual


Text Information:

Scripture References:
st. 1-2 = Matt. 27:55-56
st. 3 = Luke 23:55
st. 4 = Matt. 28:1-7

An African American spiritual that probably predates the Civil War, "Were You There" was first published in William Barton's Old Plantation Hymns (1899). The spiritual's earlier roots include a white spiritual known in Tennessee as "Have you heard how they crucified my Lord?" Additional stanzas are available from oral and written tradition:

Were you there when they pierced him in the side?
Were you there when the sun refused to shine?

Just as modern Jews identify with the Hebrew slaves in Egypt at their Passover Seder ("When I was in Egypt"), we are encouraged in this text to identify with the witnesses to Christ's death and resurrection. With distances of geography and time removed, we become part of that great body of people who come trembling to the cross of Christ for salvation. ('Tree" in stanza 2 refers, of course, to the cross, but it was undoubtedly significant to black slaves who witnessed lynchings.)

Liturgical Use:
Stanzas 1-3 on Good Friday; stanzas 1-4 during the Paschal Vigil or at Easter sunrise services.

--Psalter Hymnal Handbook

Tune Information:

The congregation could sing the entire spiritual, but the tune has a call-and-response structure; try singing unaccompanied with a soloist asking the initial questions in each stanza and the congregation joining in at "Oh, sometimes." The soloist could take significant liberty with the melody and rhythm, and congregations could also treat the "tremble" figure with freedom. Try having the choir hum the parts as background for the solo voice. Although the preferred practice is to sing unaccompanied, 'Were You There" could be accompanied by flute or guitar. The harmony was composed by C. Winfred Douglas (PHH 342).

--Psalter Hymnal Handbook


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