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“Were You There?”


Lent and Holy Week have some very powerful and moving hymns that cause us to pause and contemplate our Savior’s passion. A few hymns that come to mind are, “Go to Dark Gethsemane,” “Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted,” “O Sacred Head Now Wounded,” and one that captured my imagination as a child, “There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood.”
A hymn for Good Friday that appears in some newer Lutheran hymnals is “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?” (Christian Worship #119 / Lutheran Service Book #456) A quick search online reveals that this hymn was sung by slaves on plantations in the pre-Civil War era.
The hymn asks us if we “were there” when Jesus was crucified, when He was nailed to the tree, when they laid Him in the tomb, and when God raised Him from the tomb. Each verse echoes with the refrain, “Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.”
Well, were you there?
If you were there on Good Friday, it makes the events of that day much more powerful and personal. Think of the Apostle John, who was on site when the soldier speared Jesus’ corpse and saw the blood and water flow from His side. John writes, “he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you may believe.” (John 19:35)
Amazingly enough, the Bible tells us that we were there! Isaiah writes that “the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6b) As Jesus was being crucified, our sins were there as He was punished in our place.
We were there when Jesus was nailed to the cross. Paul writes to the Colossians that God “wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, HAVING NAILED IT TO THE CROSS.” (2:14) Everything that was against us, all the commandments of God that we had broken, the tally marks of our sins, were nailed to the cross with Jesus and died with Him there. And our slate was wiped clean by the blood of Jesus.
We were there when Jesus was buried in Joseph of Arimathea’s new tomb on Good Friday. Speaking of how our baptism connects us with Christ, Paul tells us in Romans 6 that “we were buried with Him through baptism into death.” (Romans 6:4) His death and burial became the death and burial of our sin.
Through your baptism you were also there on Easter when Jesus rose, as Paul continues, “that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4) His death was the death of your sins. His resurrection meant new life for you—a new life lived not for yourself, but for Him who gave Himself for you! Through your baptism, you were there!
We were there on Good Friday, and it causes us to “tremble, tremble, tremble” with awe and reverence. We tremble as we see the extreme price that had to be paid for our debt of sin. Like the Good Friday earthquake itself, we tremble as we see the Lord of Life dead and buried. We tremble with joy and excitement on Easter as we see our Lord rising to life to secure our forgiveness and declaring us right with God. Yes, praise God, you were there!
Nathan Pfeiffer is pastor of Berea Lutheran Church in Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota.