Were you there…

Each day this week, I’ve posted on Facebook a version of a hymn I first heard at mass last Sunday. Judging by people’s reactions, it’s an old familiar for many. Who knew. It’s often attributed as an American spiritual: the original author is unknown and it possibly combines Afro-American and white-spiritual traditions. A version of the song was first published in Old Plantation Hymns (Barton, 1899).

I’ve been trolling YouTube to find different versions and I have my favourite. Johnny Cash has a version that I quite liked. The Peguero Sisters (aka Pegasis) do a lovely version, too. Marvelis, Rissel, and Yaina were born in the Dominican Republic and now live in Green Bay. WI. Deborah and David Johnson have a version that I liked as well. But my favourite, by a score or two, is that by Andrea Thomas.

There’s also a version for the Stations of the Cross that’s sung on Good Friday, with a verse for each station.

Phrases for Stations of the Cross

1  Were you there when they sentenced him to die?

2  Were you there when his shoulder bore the cross?

3  Were you there when he fell beneath the cross?

4  Were you there when that Mother met her son?

5   Were you there when Simon held the cross?

6  Were you there when the woman brought the towel?

7  Were you there when he fell unto the ground?

8  Did you weep with the women on the way?

9  Were you there when he fell one final time?

10  Were you there when they stripped him of his clothes?

11  Were you there when they nailed him to the cross?

12  Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

13  Were you there when they took him from the cross?

14  Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?

It’s going to be a strange Easter this year. Very strange. No family gatherings. I won’t be having my traditional lamb dinner on Easter Sunday where invited friends gather around the table to celebrate. The last few years, we’ve had an Easter Egg hunt that could get a little competitive. It’ll be just me this year and I’m not sure I’m all that bothered.

Easter weekend was a watershed in many projections earlier on, the weekend that would mark the beginning of a return to normal. Instead. towns and villages in Hungary are posting signs asking people to stay away. The UNESCO village of Hollókő, famous for its Easter festival, has closed its parking lots and asking people to give it a miss this year, too. No doubt the villagers, quite used to the big weekend of celebrations will find it strange to have their village deserted.

Photo from Tartsd otthon a nagyit FB page

I was never a great one for the Easter ceremonies. It’s been years since I’ve done my Easter Duty. ]In the Catholic Church, the Code of Canon Law #989 asserts, “After having attained the age of discretion, each of the faithful is bound by an obligation faithfully to confess serious sins at least once a year.”] The pomp and ceremony that surrounds the Easter vigil never did much for me, either. That said, it’s always been a time of inner reflection for me, a highlight of my personal church year, a period of hope marked by new beginnings.  This year, more than any that have gone before, it’ll be a source of strength and renewal. And I sincerely hope a turning point in the COVID-19 pandemic. Perhaps years from now, we’ll be asking each other not were we there, but where were we when all this happened…




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  1. […] had a bit of a music revelation back at Easter when I heard the hymn Were you there for the first time; it blew me away. In the advent to Christmas, I’ve been trying to choose […]

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