Danish: Igjennem Nat og Trængsel
Romans 15:4-9; Ephesians 4:4-8;
Text: Bernard Severin Ingemann (1789-1862) Tune: St. Oswald, Beecher, Ebenezer
1. Through the night of doubt and sorrow Onward goes the pilgrim band, Singing songs of expectation, Marching to the promised land. Clear before us through the darkness Gleams and burns the guiding light; Pilgrim clasps the hand of pilgrim, Stepping fearless through the night.
2. One the light of God's own presence O'er his ransomed people shed, Chasing far the gloom and terror, Brightening all the path we tread: One the object of our journey, One the faith which never tires, One the earnest looking forward, One the hope our God inspires:
3. One the strain that lips of thousands Lift as from the heart of one; One the conflict, one the peril, One the march in God begun: One the gladness of rejoicing On the far eternal shore, Where the one almighty Father Reigns in love for evermore.
4. Onward, therefore, Christian pilgrims, Onward with the cross our aid; Bear its shame, and fight its battle, Till we rest beneath its shade. Soon shall come the great awaking, Soon the rending of the tomb; Then the scattering of all shadows, And the end of toil and gloom. Tr. Sabine Baring-Gould (1834-1924)
MEDITATION I was asked to speak at Trinity Seminary in Columbus, Ohio. I wanted to know whether it had a favorite hymn or theme hymn. No one better to ask than the Ruth Flesner, widow of Dorris Flesner, a History Professor at Luther Seminary.
When I called her, she was quick and ready. "Yes, they had a hymn, one they cherished. 'Through the Night of Doubt and Sorrow.'” Her father had been Dean at Hamma School of Theology, a predecessor school of Trinity which was formed when two German American Lutheran seminaries merged. The Hamma tradition had been aggressively English. That they chose a Danish hymn surprised me a bit until I did the research where one always finds surprises. Written by Ingemann, the hymn is filled with images of pilgrimages from the Exodus. Building a school and church on the frontier was difficult. Like a pilgrimage.
Ezra Keller (1812-1848) was the first president of Wittenberg which would house what became Hamma. He wrote in his autobiography that when he got to Ohio, he knelt down on a hill looking over the Empire Valley and claimed it for Christ. “I laid my hands on my bosom and devoutly prayed, 'Lord Jesus, let this American Canaan be thine.'” That heritage lived in the school. As aggressive Anglicizers they would be attracted to this hymn. It was Lutheran and in English. From the first they saw themselves as pilgrims.
The hymn refers many times to the Exodus from Egypt into the Promised land of Canaan. Keller clearly saw himself as a new Moses leading his people into a new land.
Christians have frequently used the Exodus to describe their journey from darkness into light. Jesus' baptism, and ours, is the crossing of the Red Sea. Jesus' going to the desert for forty days like the wandering in the Wilderness, his Sermon on the Mount, like Moses on Mt. Sinai, his entire life can be seen as an Exodus, or pilgrimage. There are battles and many trials along the way. Life is not easy and all we have is the pillar of fire by night, and the pillar of cloud by day shining ahead of us, far past the darkness. The darkness, however, is looming, something we must go through.
Life as a difficult pilgrimage is not an image that has attracted much interest of late, but it may be more relevant as we wonder what on earth is going to happen in the fall. Many people have expected everything to start up again, but there are voices against that, pitting people against each other. We are not sure of the direction we should go. To whom do we listen?
As Christians, our goal is, ultimately, the same: to see the risen Christ as he is. Far be it from me to revise Baring-Gould, but I would translate the last stanza closer to the original: "To Golgatha we journey/ Spiritually, with prayerful songs./From the cross, from the grave we climb with blessed songs of praise unto the resurrected kingdom, Salvation's paradise." It doesn't sing, but.... What we pray for now in our pilgrimage is the fortitude to keep moving toward him, into the "resurrected kingdom, Salvation's paradise." As we journey on, we claim all whom we meet for him, as Keller long ago once did. Meanwhile, let us sing songs of expectation! Despite the trials on the way, what a marvel we see ahead!
Ingemann is considered the fourth greatest Danish hymn writer. He showed great promise as a writer of national epics and plays early on. He became a teacher at Sorø Academy, a pleasant drive northwest of Copenhagen, where he lived and worked until he died. He wrote, among other things, historical romance novels, rather like Sir Walter Scott. He was a good friend of Grundtvig and Hans Christian Andersen, whom he rivaled as Denmark's author of children's literature. His morning and evening hymns still live. He is also the writer of "Deilig er Jorden," a favorite Christmas hymn of the north. (See Hymn 48)
Sabine Baring-Gould, a prolific English writer of many books—the British Museum once listed more than 100 books under his name, more than any other writer—learned several languages during his student years and became an Anglican priest in 1864. He wrote the 16 volume Lives of the Saints, thirty novels and many other books. For some reason this text attracted him; the theme of struggle and pilgrimage must have appealed to him, given he wrote "Onward, Christian Soldiers." Because it appeared in the great English hymnal Hymns: Ancient and Modern 1861, it seemed to be an English hymn and has appeared in hundreds of American and British hymnals since.
The tune for this varies which makes the hymns less recognizable since it is not associated with one tune. Ebenezer, the great Welsh hymn, is the one used by Lutherans today. Another name for the tune is Ton y botel, meaning Tune in a bottle, since the story goes that it was found washed up in a bottle. St. Oswald and Beecher with several others work. It remains in the Danish hymnal.
LINKS American/The Sign Posters https://youtu.be/xcZB28QfpVg
Organ playing Ebenezer https://youtu.be/k8TzfhZNRaw
Harp/ Ebenezer https://youtu.be/PIw9hhRQJEw