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  • Jiabao Zhang

I Stood on the River of Jordan

arr. Harry T. Burleigh

sung by Jiabao Zhang, tenor

Mary Kay Burton, piano



I Stood on the River of Jordan


I stood on the river of Jordan to see that ship come sailing over,

Stood on the river of Jordan, to see that ship sail by.

Oh, mourner don’t you weep! When you see that ship come sailing over,

Oh, mourner don’t you weep, when you see that ship sail by.


Oh sister, you better be ready to see that ship come sailing over,

Brother, you better be ready to see that ship sail by.

Oh, mourner don’t you weep! When you see that ship come sailing over,

Shout “Glory, Hallelujah!” when you see that ship sail by.


I stood on the river of Jordan...


Many spirituals talk about the Jordan River and water in general. Boats and ships are also a part of the narrative. In this song, the ship that is sailing over is carrying people to the other side of the river - to heaven, to their eternal home. This is why the text suggests that the singer shout “Glory, Hallelujah!” One day, we will all be on that ship sailing over - and we “better be ready.” This final journey is the grand equalizer: it will include sisters, brothers, mourners -- everyone!


Wherever you are standing right now, whether it’s the River Jordan or Lake Mendota - be ready- get ready.One day, the ship will come for you - to bring you over to eternal life. Right now, it might just be sailing by, but one day soon, it will sail directly to you. Will you be ready for this trip? How will you prepare?


Another reading of this text might be that its “coded language” gives instructions about the route to escape from enslavement. Coded messages appear in spirituals, poetry, and even quilts. To those looking for it, the message could be quite clear - but hopefully hidden well enough that those in authority would not recognize it. So beyond the surface message of waiting for passage to heaven and a better life, this song might have given the following information:

“Go to the Ohio River (the geographical division between North and South) and wait there, and the boat will come to take you across to freedom.”


Prayer for the Day:

Lord, I want to be ready when the ship comes sailing to me. Teach me to follow your teachings in my day-to-day living, so that I might be prepared for a life beyond this one.

I pray that your ship will bring me safely to the other shore - and eternal life with you. Amen.


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