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BAPTISM OF OUR LORD To Jordan came the Christ our Lord

English: To Jorden Came the Christ our Lord

German: Christ, unser Herr zum Jorden kam

Text and Tune: Martin Luther (1483-1546)

Baptism of Christ Giotto

Why Jesus had to be baptized has puzzled biblical scholars over the centuries. If baptism is the washing of regeneration, why did Jesus, who was perfect, need it?

Luther thought a lot about that too. His hymn "To Jordan came the Christ, our Lord," intended for the Baptismal section in his Singing Catechism, teaches us a great deal about the reasons. First of all, Jesus submitted to baptism to show his obedience to his father. He was his father's pleasure. We hear that in the voice from heaven which announces that Jesus is the Father’s son, in whom he is well pleased. Some say it is where Jesus identifies completely with his and our humanity.

We also see the dove descending so the Trinity is here. Thus, as the voice says, we must listen to what Jesus has to say. He knows what his Father wants and will obey him and tell us all that his father has sent him to do and say.

From there the hymn exhorts us with the Great Commission to go to every nation and tell the good news. Luther’s conclusion is richest of all—in it we see how faith works. While we can see the water, we cannot see, without faith, the love of God that is pouring out to us in the water. (For more on the hymn see ( )

Lutherans have, in the past, been fairly faithful in bringing their children to church while they are very young, to be baptized. They have even sent them to Sunday school and confirmation, but then have expected that they would wander off as they were growing up. They, however, thought that when they started raising their own families, they would return, baptize their children and raise them in the faith as they themselves had been. Now, with the breakdown of families and the failure of churches to teach the faith in confirmation or youth groups, we have seen that the kids haven’t returned and are off in worlds that are not good for them. But even now, there are those who will remember something of the faith they were baptized into and long to come home.

Hjemlandstoner hymnal of my grandmother

My grandmother Helga had a favorite song, "I wandered the world/Jeg vandred I verden, en gang, en gang." Since she died in childbirth with my father in 1916, he knew little about her. His foster mother, Anna, had been a good friend of his mother, and told him many stories to give him a sense for her. I have in my hand her songbook, Hjemlandstoner, a gift from her future sister-in-law Kari, which she clearly used a lot. Her favorite songs are marked with a note. She had a fine voice, they say, and played the guitar as she sang. This hymn is lost in the mists of time; I can't find the author, but it always moves me. My father often recited it to me when talking about his mother. Its title is “Mit Hjerte var nær ved at briste/My Heart was close to breaking.”

1. I wandered the world for a while

And gloried in sin, which was vile,

And appeared to be happy

to all of my friends.

But inside my heart was still breaking

And no one could see my heart aching.

2. I blasphemed our Savior’s dear words,

Denied and betrayed my good Lord

I ridiculed him

who for sinners had come

Though inside my heart was still breaking

And no one could see my heart aching.

3. At night I in my sorrow I lay,

I questioned, I wept, even prayed

I suffered, but could not believe.

I couldn’t find peace

While inside my heart was still breaking

And no one could see my heart aching.

4. "You are an ungodly one

Your heart is as hard as a stone, a stone,"

So said them of me

I could not believe

While inside my heart was still breaking

And no one could see my heart aching.

5. But finally, God was too strong

I cannot explain how he finally won

But one thing I see,

I know I’m at peace,

A peace till my final awaking

As joy fills my heart unto breaking.

Tr. Gracia Grindal 2022

Grandmother had been baptized and confirmed. This song seemed to speak for her. She clearly felt as though she had wandered away from the Lord. Her heart was breaking. And then God proved stronger than she

Grandmother Helga

and she was brought back into his light. From that came great joy which she shared with everyone she met. Toward the end of his life, my grandfather said in a letter he wrote to my father, “Every day with Helga was like heaven on earth.”

Her prayers have followed her family down the years. While our baptisms drown the old and raise us up into new life and the joy of God’s grace, many of us have wandered off. To return to the spring of life is joy beyond all joy. I wrote the hymn for today based on my grandmother’s song. I hope it speaks to those today struggling to find hope and joy. The waters are filled with joy from the Father who views all of us as precious, yes, precious, and who hears all our prayers.


Luther's hymn on baptism is not well known today, but beloved by those who do know it. It was part of his Singing Catechism. It is in the best tradition of Luther's teaching hymns. Bach set it as a prelude for organ and a cantata.

Christ unser Herr zum Jorden kam

Bach cantata BWV 7 Christ Unser Herr zum Jordan kam

A little research in my grandmother's hymn after a couple of hints, as usual, surprised me: The tune suggested for “I wandered” is a beautiful one which you can hear in this link. It is used for the Norwegian poet. Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson's poem, "Hidden Love/Han tværs over Bænkene hang." This song Christianzes the language of the original very skillfully. The refrain is an exact quote from Bjørnson. The tune is by Caroline Margrethe Georgiana Recke who is little known today except for this tune.

Han tværs over Bænkene hang/Jeg vandred'

It is surprising on reexamining the original and my version how much alike they really were. Even the meters.

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