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HYMN 154 What Joy to Reach the Harbor

Danish: Hvor er det godt at lande

Norwegian: Hvor er det godt å lande

Luke 15:11-32

Text: Hans Adolph Brorson (1694-1764). Tune: Norwegian folk/Danish: Olaf Ring (1884-1946)

1. What joy to reach the harbor

Of heavn’ly peace and rest,

To sing, released from sorrow,

The anthems of the blest!

As children there in mansions fair,

The Father’s love with Christ to share

What joy to reach the harbor

Of heav’nly peace and rest.

2. How sweet to taste the manna,

The goodness of the Lord,

While rings the glad hosanna

Around the festal board,

Nay, e’en to see, eternally

Enrapt, the glorious Trinity.

How sweet to taste the manna,

The goodness of the Lord.

3. What bliss to wear forever

The bridal crown of life,

The token of God’s favor

To conquerors in strife;

While all rejoice to hear the voice

Of angels sharing in our joys.

What bliss to wear forever

The bridal crown of life.

Tr. Olav Lee


Bishop Hans Adolph Brorson

This Brorson text we have probably lost in English, but it deserves maybe another look. It comes from his Swan Songs, written while he lay in his bed in the bishop’s mansion in Ribe, Denmark, sickly and unable to do his work, his mentally ill son, who had to be confined to keep him and the family safe, banging on the walls and yelling across the hallway from him.

While he had written songs for the church year and the topics of the Christian life in his hymns in the Rare Treasury of Faith, these songs seem to be from another dimension. Through his dimming eyes he has a clearer vision of the other world.

Our translator has chosen to clean up the imagery in the hymn, unfortunately, but maybe understandably. It is hard to sing of pig sties in a hymn, I suppose. It is, however, a very well wrought poem, putting together the prodigal son story with our pilgrimage to heaven. Lines three through six in the first stanza would be more correct if they were “From the wild world’s strand/from foreign homes and lands, from robber’s nests to angel fests, from pigpens to the Father’s arms.” Where, as the second stanza says, we will receive our inheritance.

There are many more accents in this parable than one or two readings can give us. Of course, forgiveness and the Father’s prodigal love. It is our homecoming as well. When the prodigal comes to himself in the pig sty eating the husks of pig food he isn’t just thinking of his father’s forgiveness, which is essential, he is also thinking of what a heaven it will be at home. There will be new clothes, new jewelry, music and laughter, a banquet of good food, joy in the reconciliation. These images draw him home. These are images of heaven that draw us forward as well. To get there he realizes he has to turn around, to say to his father he has sinned. The heaven he went to find is a pigsty; now he sees it clearly. His folly breaks his heart. How could he have been so dumb? There was so much he scorned or missed.

The Return of the Prodigal Son. Rembrandt 1668

How many of us lost in a far country have come to our senses and dreamed of home? I have heard of rebellious children who have fled their pious homes and come to themselves and gone home expecting the parents to be like the father in this parable. Sometimes they are. Some times not. Some times there is no home to return to. Sometimes the parents simply cannot forgive. The parable holds up the model of forgiveness that would be desirable on earth. But it can’t always happen. What the parable tells us is that we can return to a perfect home where everything will be love and joy all around, the host eager for us to enjoy ourselves fully. It happens when we turn around and see our Lord welcoming us home, for good.


The hymn came out in 1765, the year after Brorson's death, when one of Brorson’s sons found the manuscript in his father’s effects. It came to Norway with Pontoppidan’s hymnal of 1740. Like many of his hymn texts, it was set to a Norwegian folk tune there. This was in the Concordia. The current Norwegian hymnal does not include this hymn, but the Danish hymnal has it. That tune is by Oluf Ring. (For more on Brorson see Hymns 37, 47, 94,104)


Oslo Domkor

Gunstein Draugedalen

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