Image Golgota by Balazs Janos
“Were you there when … ?”
By Balázs János (1904–1927) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Singing in the car, which led to thinking about the words, which led to thinking about an ambiguity I had never noticed before. In the hymn “Were You There [When They Crucified My Lord],” I have always taken the “were you there?” question as referring to a kind of “plain text” interpretation: were you an eye-witness, did you live in Jerusalem in the 1st century, were you, like, there? But today it occurred to me (finally?) that it might refer to a kind of theological or spiritual, categorical and implicit, kind of being there. Were you there [implicitly, one of all the sinners for whom Christ died, all of whom were in some sense there at the cross the way all Israel was there at Mt. Sinai when Moses received the 10 commandments] when they crucified my Lord? Were you there [theologically speaking, categorically, one of “all the faithful of every time and place” who are raised together with Christ] when he rose up from the tomb?

That really put a different spin on the song for me.