This is a holy week. Jews around the world celebrate Passover, and remember how we were once slaves in Egypt, and with the inspiration of God and the leadership of Moses, we became a free people. Christians celebrate Easter, the resurrection of Jesus three days after his crucifixion. This week, the world came together in sadness and shock as we watched fire nearly destroy the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris.

From slavery to freedom. From death to life. From glory to near ruins. There is always transformation of some kind. There is always something happening. Change is always coming. Transformation is upon us, and we must be ready not only to face the change, but to welcome the change. This sense of something happening soon, something coming soon, is beautifully captured in the glorious “People Get Ready,” written by Curtis Mayfield and performed by his group The Impressions.

“People, get ready
There’s a train a-coming
You don’t need no ticket
You just get on board

All you need is faith
To hear the diesels humming
Don’t need no ticket
You just thank the Lord”

When I wrote about the lovely “Here Comes the Sun” by The Beatles, I expressed my difficulty in imagining a time that this beautiful statement of spring and awakening did not exist. I mean, hasn’t that song always been around?!?! It is amazing to me that people in other eras and years have lived their entire lives without ever hearing this simple, seminal, pristine song…not even once.

Written only a few years before Sun, “People Get Ready” is an ancient, contemporary song. The train that Mayfield is encouraging people to jump on is a train of faith, a train of belief, a train of commitment.  The song that Mayfield sings sounds as if it has been ringing in our ears for centuries.

“People get ready
For the train to Jordan
Picking up passengers
From coast to coast

Faith is the key
Open the doors and board them
There’s room for all
Amongst the loved the most”

Released in 1965, “People Get Ready” was immediately adopted by the civil rights movement as an anthem. Artists from different traditions and styles covered the song, and shared its majestical beauty with different audiences, and brought its timeless teachings to rock and roll, reggae and country western audiences. Everyone could relate. Everyone had a reason to board the train.

The train brings good to people, and brings people to good, but there’s no room for those who sin, for those who are self centered, for those who are looking out only for themselves. We are community, and together we will find peace and happiness.

“There ain’t no room
For the hopeless sinner
Who would hurt all mankind
Just to save his own

Have pity on those
Whose chances are thinner
‘Cause there’s no hiding place
From the kingdom’s throne”

Mayfield sings with a perfect falsetto, and the song is simple, crisp and clean. Its messages are timeless and universal, and we can hear it everywhere. Bruce Springsteen references the song in his brilliant “Land of Hopes and Dreams,” singing of a train carrying saints and sinners, losers and winners. Reggae legend Bob Marley connects the song to his lovely “One Love” for a timeless message of love and peace (and watch the video for a very brief Paul McCartney cameo). Marley’s son Ziggy released a brilliant cover of the song, picking up the beat, bringing people to their feet in dance, joy and celebration. Jeff Beck and Rod Stewart cover the song, Eva Cassidy covers the song, Ed Sheeran covers the song, even John Denver gets in on the act.

Almost as if it has always been around, just like “Here Comes the Sun,” “People Get Ready” is for everyone, for every age, for every tradition.

You may be celebrating Easter this week, you may be celebrating Passover. Maybe you are celebrating neither, but you joined the world as we watched a beautiful church become engulfed in flames. What is your transformation? What train will you be riding?

“People Get Ready”
Written by Curtis Mayfield
Performed by The Impressions
Released 1965


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