October 18

Crucifixion and Resurrection (As Told by Johnny Cash)

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Sometimes, it causes me to tremble.


If you had been observing Johnny Cash’s pattern on his choices of songs, you should not be surprised by now how this one appealed to him. A pioneer and a proponent of various musical themes, he had always been drawn to materials that had depth and mystery.

In his rendition of Were You There (When They Crucify My Lord), he put full effort in etching the imagery of that dramatic event to the consciousness of his listeners. Much to our satisfaction, the legendary Man in Black (and with the help of Carter family), did not stray but emphasized the intensity of Jesus’ crucifixion. Though presented as a performance, they did not dare use the song’s narration as a platform for self-conceit. There were reverence and humility in their delivery.

Indeed, such a sacred scene should not be taken lightly. It is one thing to merely recite the words, and another to feel the haunting sight of a sinless man being nailed to a Cross. To be more direct, how would you feel seeing the Son of God die in your place? For that, the repetition of “tremble” in the chorus is just fitting.

However, this beautiful hymn is not a plain, morbid narration of the crucifixion. In the recent variations, a stanza was added detailing the resurrection of our Lord (and rightly so.) Jesus’ story did not end at his burial. He came back to life and had always been present since.

Were you there when He rose up from the dead?
Were you there when He rose up from the dead?
Oh! Sometimes I feel like shouting glory, Glory, glory!
Were you there when He rose up from the dead?

The identity of the actual author is still unknown. Most research available online claim that it could be one of the blacks in the 1800s who wrote it. Living in the midst of inhospitable circumstances as slaves in the southern plantations; they could easily identify or be even comforted by comparison of their sufferings with Christ’s. Instead of retaliation and vengeance, their newly-found faith gave them the will to forgive their oppressors as Jesus did on that cross 2000 years ago.


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