Above is a video of the song that I mentioned in my Good Friday sermon. “On an American Spiritual” by David Holsinger. This arrangement, and the variations on the simple, haunting, and beautiful tune “Were you there?” hits at me in a really profound way. As I mentioned, just briefly, on Good Friday, I feel as though this piece of music takes me through Holy Week in a really meaningful way.
The first variation is very clean, very direct, very clear. We hear a lot of trumpets and french horns. It is smooth and it is sorrowful. There is some majesty in the sound. It is an invitation in to Holy Week. It is an invitation in to all that Jesus will do, and all that will be done to him. There are glimpses in this of the Triumphal Entry, as Jesus rides the humble colt of a donkey in to Jerusalem, to shouts of Hosanna!
The second variation build to this violent and angry section through the melody, to the point where it is almost unrecognizable. There’s lots of percussion and low brass. It’s harsh and at times hard to listen to. This particular variation reminds me of Jesus’ arrest, his torture, his humiliation, and his crucifixion. The second variation, for me, is all about Good Friday.
The third variation is majestic and heroic, the sound sweets magnificently. And it culminates with french horns playing this beautiful melody. This is a sound of victory, a tune of declaration and proclamation. Though, the tune here is still the sorrowful, haunting melody of “Were you there?”. This variation feels like the veil being torn, like Malchus, in one of the drama pieces at our Good Friday service, said, the unapproachable God was now approachable. This changes everything.
And perhaps the most profound thing that Holsinger did, for me, was he had the piece end with just some light woodwinds… leaving us with a glimpse of anticipation and hope for what is to come on Sunday morning.
Blessings and peace as you remember the death, and celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.