Norwegian: Han skal åpne perleporten
Swedish: Han har öppnat pärleporten
Text: Fredrick Arvid Blom (1867-1927) Tune: Elsie Ahlwén? (1905-1986)
1. Love divine, so great and wondrous, Deep and mighty, pure, sublime, Coming from the heart of Jesus, Just the same through tests of time! R/He the pearly gates will open, So that I may enter in; For He purchased my redemption And forgave me all my sin.
2. Like a dove when hunted, frightened, As a wounded fawn was I; Brokenhearted, yet He healed me. He will heed the sinner's cry. R/
3. Love divine, so great and wondrous! All my sins He then forgave; I will sing His praise forever, For His blood, His power to save. R/
4. In life's eventide, at twilight, At His door I'll knock and wait; By the precious love of Jesus, I shall enter heaven's gate. R/
Tr. Nathaniel Carlson (1879-1957)
My father could never sing this song or remember it, without telling this story: they were assembled for their Sunday evening testimony meeting in the little Lutheran Free Church in Ferndale, Washington. A soloist was singing this song. Just as he got to the refrain and was belting it out, “He the pearly gates will open/Han skal åpne perleporten” his false teeth clamped shut.
I wonder if that somber little group of saints burst out laughing then? He didn’t say. But every time he told it, we laughed and laughed. I can still see him slapping his knee and throwing back his head in glorious laughter, along with my mother and her musical laugh.
Although not everything is funny, many things can be, even the most sanctified. And there is a great difference between laughing at and laughing with. The former is derisory and mean; the second, redemptive.
Comics exist to find our foibles and show them to us. We aren’t hearing much of that these days. We are way too serious, I think, because we have lost the sense that something else is coming where all of our foibles will be exposed. If we can't have heaven here, it feels like we want to make everyone go through hell.
The Christian story can be seen as comedy. Dante called his great Christian poem The Comedy (later it would be called the Divine Comedy)--because it ended well. There is much more to say about that, but not here. The ending of the Christian life is, in a way, so unexpected, so undeserved. How did sinners like us end up here? Is this a joke? Surprise!
The thing we love about jokes is that the ending is always a surprise. It plays with our expectations. Anne Sexton (1928-1974), an American poet of the mid-twentieth century, wrote a poem "The Rowing Endeth" in a book of poems called The Awful Rowing toward God in which she finally arrives in heaven where, to her surprise, God starts playing poker with her. After a bit, she is pleased because she has a Royal Straight Flush. But God wins with a fifth Ace—a wild card had been announced she hadn't heard. Then they burst into laughter, rolling in hoops of wild laughter all over heaven, "laughing a Rejoice-Chorus at our two triumphs." The unexpected ending, grace, changes everything. His win is a win for her. And it fills them with laughter.
When I think of what heaven will be like, and there are no words quite to describe it, when the pearly gates are opened to us, I venture to think it will be a lot like church gatherings with people sitting around telling stories, usually about their foibles, that will make everybody laugh and laugh for all the right reasons. Everything will be a glorious surprise.
Blom became a part of the Swedish spiritual song tradition that continued here in the Upper Midwest with the likes of Nils Frykman (1842-1911), Johannes Hultmann (1861-1942), and Andrew L. Skoog (1856-1934) known as the three stars of Swedish American song writers. Blom came to this country from Sweden and joined the Salvation Army in Chicago. Not long after, he enrolled at North Park College and Seminary. He became a pastor in the Evangelical Covenant Church. Unfortunately, he fell away from the faith, resigning from the ministry for his drinking and later crimes. For his offenses he had to spend time in prison. While there, behind bars and gates, he experienced a liberation through his faith. After he had served his time and heard the prison gates slam shut behind him, he thought of the pearly gates where he would be met with a welcome. A surprise. One can read something of his own experience in stanzas two and three. From there he went on to serve a Swedish Congregational church in Pennsylvania but returned to Sweden where he died. George Beverly Shea loved the song and sang it frequently.
The tune works for everything from church to country to jazz. Who wrote it is a matter of some conjecture. It has been attributed to several people. Most will suggest Elsie Ahlwén, but that is not sure.
LINKS Carina and Jard Samuelsson https://youtu.be/lhD7mbyev4g
Christer Sjögren https://youtu.be/uGNVGskbGAk
George Beverly Shea https://youtu.be/0nTDVSSBuMQ
Salvation Army band and congregation/this is fun https://youtu.be/FYVZGkeDNuU