Were You There

Full Text

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?

Psalter Hymnal, (Gray)

Notes

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

WERE YOU THERE

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 rh…

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Timeline

Media

Baptist Hymnal 1991 #156
The Cyber Hymnal #7233
  • Adobe Acrobat image (PDF)
  • Noteworthy Composer score (NWC)
  • XML score (XML)
Psalter Hymnal (Gray) #377
Worship and Rejoice #283

Instances

Instances (41)TextImageAudioScoreFlexscore
African American Heritage Hymnal #254Image
Baptist Hymnal 1991 #156TextImageAudioScore
Baptist Hymnal 2008 #254TextImageFlexscore
Celebrating Grace Hymnal #192Image
Celebration Hymnal #315Image
Chalice Hymnal #198Text
Christian Worship: a Lutheran hymnal #119Text
Church Hymnal, Fifth Edition #246
Church Hymnary (4th ed.) #403Text
Common Praise (1998) #192Text
Complete Anglican Hymns Old & New #737
Complete Mission Praise #745
Evangelical Lutheran Worship #353Image
Gather (3rd ed.) #511Image
Gather Comprehensive #416Text
Gather Comprehensive, Second Edition #438
Glory to God: the Presbyterian Hymnal #228TextImageAudio
Hymnal 1982: according to the use of the Episcopal Church #172TextImage
Hymns Ancient & Modern, New Standard Edition #523
Hymns Old and New: New Anglican #540
Lead Me, Guide Me (2nd ed.) #301
Lift Every Voice and Sing II: an African American hymnal #37Text
Lift Up Your Hearts: psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs #166ImageAudioFlexscore
Lutheran Service Book #456Text
Presbyterian Hymnal: hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs #102TextImage
Psalter Hymnal (Gray) #377TextImageAudioScore
Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal #158
Sing Joyfully #266TextImage
Songs for Life #167Text
The Christian Life Hymnal #161
The Covenant Hymnal: a worshipbook #240
The Cyber Hymnal #7233TextAudioScore
The Hymnal for Worship and Celebration #181
The New Century Hymnal #229Image
The United Methodist Hymnal #288TextImage
The Worshiping Church #218TextImageFlexscore
Together in Song: Australian Hymn Book II #345
Trinity Hymnal (Rev. ed.) #260TextImageFlexscore
Voices United: The Hymn and Worship Book of The United Church of Canada #144Text
Worship and Rejoice #283TextImageAudioScore
Worship in Song: A Friends Hymnal #111



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