The hymn “Were You There?” asks a continual question. It is obviously not about whether or not we were actually there at the crucifixion, burial and Resurrection of Jesus. Ultimately it is about whether or not we truly identify with the suffering, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is this last part that causes the song to actually change. In the refrain the notion goes from of Trembling to shouting glory. The real sad thing for me in writing this series is the above video was the only one i could really find that brought out the transformation. Most people sing the first three verses to indicate and true identification with the suffering death and burial of Christ, but the vast majority of performances had the resurrection missing.
I suppose I can understand it as it is probably the part of Jesus we least can relate to. We can understand suffering as we suffer. We can understand death because we have watched people die. We understand burial because we have watched people be buried. We understand all to well and tragically – the finality of life. What the have trouble identifying with walking out the tomb. It is not something most us have experienced or seen. It is however though the most important verse of the hymn.
The author of this hymn is unknown. This is a negro spiritual from the time of slavery that came out of the south. It was probably sung for the first time by a slave who also identified probably more than most with the suffering and death of Christ and even then trembles because of it. But that same slave also understood the power of hope. Hope in a resurrection that would end all the trembling and suffering and change that trembling to shouting glory. It is in hope that identification with the resurrection is achieved.
For us, it is the same hope of rising from the dead that we must embrace. All our salvation is hinges on the Resurrection being true. For people of faith this is one of those non-negotiable items. Without it as Paul says our faith and suffering are useless. The challenge is to hope so that one day we will truly identify with Christ in his Resurrection as well as his suffering and death.