Updated: Oct 2, 2021
Swedish: Be Not Afraid/Var inte rädd
Text: Ylva Eggehorn (1950-). Tune: Lars Moberg (1933-2009)
1. Don't be afraid. There is a sign, a secret
A name will follow you when you must leave
Your loneliness is never far from beaches.
Don't be afraid. Somebody walked this way.
2. He loves you, and he waits for you tonight,
A night when you will see his homelessness.
And how he's waiting for to see you've come.
Eternity is crying in his heart.
3. Don't be afraid. There is a harbor here,
In darkness still for you, but you will see,
One day you'll openly confess his name,
His love and peace, and ask for nothing more.
4. You're on your way, one day the night turns white
One day and stars will grow within his arms..
Don't be afraid, there is a harbor here,
A darkness still for you, but you will see.
Tr. Ylva Eggehorn/Copyright 2016 Per Harling Swedish Hymns and the Stories behind Them. Verbum Press, Stockholm 2016. pp. 136-137.
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” The words of FDR in his first inaugural address in March 1933 sounded through the United States at a time that the Depression was setting its claws into the country. Long lines of unemployed men waited outside soup kitchens; dustbowl farmers in the southwest abandoned their farms and left for the far west; the entire country was gripped with an existential fear and seemed almost paralyzed by it. FDR knew that and this memorable sentence spoke exactly to that.
Fear is a physical thing that affects our very beings. When people are fearful they can be manipulated and dictated to. Anything to feel safe, to be taken care of, to know where their next meal is coming from, a place to sleep. Safety. These are not unimportant things. Without them there can be no life.
I have thought a lot about fear these past months. And have myself been fearful. It is very human, Jesus knew that—he and his messengers, the angels, began many a discourse with “Fear not!” or “Be not afraid!”
I am not sure we have said that very clearly to those around us. People are fearful of many things just now, but death is the big one, the last enemy,. Are we speaking clearly and loudly of our hope in Jesus? Many, including me, seem to be cowering in place, silently, without speaking at all, simply waiting for things to return to normal. But we have the best message of all. Jesus has conquered death! Be not afraid!
Helmut Thieleke, the German theologian whom I have referred to on occasion, had to preach at the end of WWII to people in bombed out cities beside churches in smoldering ruins, knowing it could well be the last time he preached or the last thing his hearers heard. He thought living so close to death made life much more vivid and rich. Our Lord said as much, "For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." Matthew 16:25
The hymn for today is probably the most popular hymn in Sweden now. Ylva Eggehorn, Sweden’s most productive contemporary hymn writer who wrote it in 1972, uses the language of Jesus as her text. She wrote the text after a dinner where she heard the story of some Jewish refugees who had lost everything. Why, they asked? She went to her room and prayed that God would give her a poem. "I received my words from the One who lives, from the Messiah she did not know but waited for, who had known and followed her."
Moberg’s tune, added two years later, helped to make it known. It was not until the tsunami in December 2004, however, that it became especially well known. The Swedes were especially hard hit since Thailand was a favorite Christmas vacation spot. Almost 600 Swedes perished. As the body bags were unloaded from the planes, people would sing this song.
It is a simple song rich with biblical images. In something of a sonnet form, it keeps moving toward the ending, our death. As a commentator says, they hymn tells us that to move toward this hidden light, is to move toward one's death. He who gave us life will also take it. At the end we will confess his name.
Don't be afraid! Is a message Christians should be shouting from the rooftops. This does not mean being careless or ignoring good practices. Wherever you are on the political spectrum, as Christians I think we can agree this is our calling just now. Jesus is life everlasting. The future is in God’s hands, not our politicians or bureaucrats. He is waiting ahead in the mists for us, all the time with us, leading and guiding, always ready to receive us whether we live or die.
Ylva Eggehorn is an important Christian writer in Sweden. She is a poet and hymn writer of consequence, following in Lina Sandell's and Britt G. Hallqvist’s footsteps. She also has written novels. She has a strong Moravian theology so her hymns and poems are very sensual and concrete. The hymn was written when Eggehorn was just 22 and she had heard the story of Jewish refugees who had lost their mother years before, and then a brother to suicide. She wanted to speak to them with a hymn. This was the result. It was included in the 1986 Swedish hymnal where it became popular, but nothing made it more popular than its use during the tsunami time. Now it is also being sung for the comfort it gives in the pandemic time.
Lars Moberg was a church musician in Sweden for most of his life. He composed hymn tunes, some of them that are much loved today.
Johannes Kyrka in Kumla Swedish church singing
Louise Gylling Anette Hilding St:Lars Kyrkan
Interview with Ylva Eggehorn/40 minutes