Norwegian: Å tænk når engang samles skal
Text: Wilhelm Andreas Wexels (1797-1866). Tune: Nikolai Herman (ca.1500-1561)
1. O happy day when we shall stand Amid the heav'nly throng, And sing with hosts from ev'ry land The new celestial song, The new celestial song.
2. O blessed day! From far and near The servants of the Lord Shall meet the ransomed millions there Who heard God's saving Word, Who heard God's saving Word.
3. O what a mighty, rushing flood Of love that will not cease, Shall roll about the throne of God In joy and endless peace, In joy and endless peace!
4. God, may Thy bounteous grace inspire Our hearts so that we may All join the heav'nly, white-robed choir Upon that glorious day, Upon that glorious day.
Bad idea. I was doing a slide tape show on the Norwegian American missionary to China, Thea Rønning (1865-1898) and needed a woman singing this mission hymn, long associated with the Norwegian mission movement. I wanted her to sound old. So I asked my mother, then not quite 60! She graciously sang, even adding some vibrato to get the sound, and her sweet mezzo came out appropriately on the tape. It was only later that she told me it had not amused her to be thought old and trembly of voice, which she was not. So late we get smart. Now 60 sounds impossibly young to me!
But the hymn rightly takes it place among the mission hymns fundamental to mission festivals in Norway or Norwegian-America. The service would often end with us standing to sing it. I can hear it to wheezy old reed organs on the prairie, electronic Baldwins in the town church, or pianos in church basements.
The missionary movement was filled with heroes and heroines, like Adoniram and Ann Judson going to Burma. Ann worked tirelessly to improve the lives of women and children, opposing child marriage and doing many things she saw that needed to be done, dying young, really a martyr for her faith.
But I didn’t need to read books to learn of missionaries and their heroic lives. I knew many of them because they came to speak at mission festivals, usually during Epiphany, the time for such festivals, and stayed with us. My parents knew them from school so these occasions were fun times for renewing acquaintance and learning about their work. Lenorah Erickson stayed with us during a cold snap in North Dakota—the temperature plummeted to almost forty below for the week and still people came to hear of her work in Formosa. She was a spell binder. During her time in the parsonage, she taught me some words and characters in Chinese.
There were many more: Melvin Rossing and Sister Milla Pederson from Madagascar, Dr. Kristofer Hagen serving in India, and my uncle Morris Werdahl from China and then Japan after the Bamboo Curtain was built. Three of my dad’s half-sisters married missionaries to Japan so we also came to know about that mission.
It went back farther than that. My great grandmother, a homesteader living in a sod dugout in Chippewa Country, Minnesota, with a growing family, sent gifts, sometime as little as $1.00, to the girls' home in Madagascar run by Johanne Borchgrevink who with her husband, Christian, helped establish the mission there. My grandmother Anna Grindal loved Lars Skrefsrud and the Santal Mission as did my parents. They knew it was their calling to support these missions with gifts and prayers because of the Great Commission of Jesus.
As faithful Christians they rejoiced when they heard that many had come to the knowledge of salvation through the missions they supported. But what always strikes me is not simply the improvements in the lives of people in their daily lives in education, medicine, or agriculture, etc. That was necessary and important. It was the ultimate goal, however, that moved the missionaries: the happy day when we would all stand together before the Throne, praising God for his great salvation: All manner of people, from “far and near,” the millions who had heard about Jesus because of the work of the missionaries.
The generosity of it, the love that moved them to do so, came from the Savior who died for all and wanted his disciples to get the good news out to the whole world. When you look at the lives of the apostles, how nearly every one died a martyr to the faith as they went to the ends of the earth to teach people all the things that Jesus had commanded, you are filled with awe and thanksgiving. Oh, Happy Day!
Wexels wrote this hymn for the first meetings of the Norwegian Mission Society in the 1840s when the mission movement swept over the West. Wexels was a Danish pastor who came to Oslo to serve the church there. He became a beloved pastor and preacher. People flocked to his sermons, they loved his hymns. His spirit was a gentle one. He became something of a mentor to several of the founding pastors of the Norwegian American churches, like Hermann and Linka Preus and Vilhelm Koren.
Wexels produced a hymn in 1840 hoping it would become the hymnal of the Norwegian people, but he failed. His hymns did become popular, however.
The tune by Nikolaus Herman is used for several hymn texts, most frequently associated with Christmas. Herman, born in Joachimsthal, a mining town in Bohemia, just across the river from Saxony, was an early supporter of the Reformation. Luther knew of him and wrote to him. Herman authored many texts and tunes especially for children—knowing that one work of the church musician in the Reformation was to encourage children to sing with their families. He suffered terribly from gout and had to leave his work, retiring early. During that period, before his death, he compiled a hymnal Die Sontags Evangelia (1560) from which Bach and others took tunes that still are sung today.
Organ Version from Norway
Posauenchor der erloserkirche Gronau https://youtu.be/U7tx0cT1v6o
Music Art61/Bach Choral arrangement https://youtu.be/6o03pKzma-8
Bach Chorale Prelude BWV 609 https://youtu.be/gFoeZpYxRFg
Russian organ version https://youtu.be/iAmjrr5YQSc
Organ arrangement https://youtu.be/oQ1FOy-TloY