Norwegian: I himmelen, I himmelen
Swedish: I himmelen, I himmelen
Text: Laurentius Laurentii Laurinus (1573-1655). Tune: Swedish or Norwegian folk
1. In heav'n above, in heav'n above, Where God our Father dwells: How boundless there the blessedness! No tongue its greatness tells. There face to face, and full and free, The everliving God we see, Our God, the Lord of hosts!
2. In heav'n above, in heav'n above, What glory deep and bright! The splendor of the noonday sun Grows pale before its light. The mighty sun that goes not down, Before whose face clouds never frown, Is God, the Lord of hosts!
3. In heav'n above, in heav'n above, No tears of pain are shed, For nothing there can fade or die; Life’s fullness round is spread, And like an ocean, joy o’erflows, And with immortal mercy glows Our God, the Lord of hosts!
4. In heav'n above, in heav'n above, God has a joy prepared, Which mortal ear has never heard, Nor mortal vision shared, Which never entered mortal thought, in mortal dreams was never sought, O God, the Lord of hosts! Tr. William MacCall
MEDITATION Most of us, if we have been in a choir, have sung Grieg’s setting of this lovely hymn. The author, a Swedish pastor in Linkjöping, wrote it to read at the funeral of his first wife, Margareta Larsdotter, around 1622.
At first it had seventeen stanzas, but was gradually whittled down to four. As I try to imagine myself at the funeral and see the grieving pastor read this over the casket of his beloved wife, I find it interesting that this is not a prayer, but simply a rapturous description of the lovely place she now inhabits. Laurinus' last two stanzas in the original, which is not included in the hymn, do end in prayers that God will, in his goodness, also give us the courage and strength to go there as well, after the painful arrows of death have wounded us.
This is entirely within the tradition. Death is the last enemy and the poet is praying for courage to meet it. I know several people who have said they do not fear being dead, but they do fear dying. That will take courage and faith, which the hymn writer notes. Death will be a struggle. What gives us courage is the one who will meet us in the place to which we are going. It is so beautiful, we should long for it, since Jesus is there, despite the obstacles along the way.
I have been reading some analyses of the different world we live in now, not just from the pandemic, but from the change the culture has wrought in us. Some say we have deluded ourselves into thinking we are not really bodies, and life is episodic, it no longer has a narrative, with a beginning, middle and end. If that is the case, then the Christian life makes no sense. Without a story there is no sin, no journey, no struggle, no consequences for previous actions, nor anything to hope for. We are whatever we invent ourselves to be at the moment.
This is a triumph for hedonism--no need to tend to family, institutions, traditions, anything that has defined us and takes work to maintain. Many now seem to be floating through disconnected moments where saying something makes it true, whether or not the facts of life agree. The notion that there is no truth, but many relative truths is a manifestation of that. Life without a story lacks meaning. Some have wondered whether this lack of meaning is causing youth in our colleges great suffering, anxiety, depression, addictions. They need meaning desperately.
Some theologians have wondered whether the pandemic is God's judgment on the idea that we can make a world without consequences. Death is out there, no matter what we think, it will have the last word. The old verities have a way of asserting themselves—we need food, clothes, shelter. We are born and die. We believe as Christians that God provides for us so we can live out our lives to the fullest. But most of all, in Jesus we have a story with a better ending than the grave.
I had a colleague at Luther College--Dennis Jones--who would lecture to the freshmen on Dante’s classic The Divine Comedy every year. He asked them to think of their dreams for the future—a home, family, wealth, position, success. As they were thinking of such things, and rightly so, he would say, great, but you will have all those things by the time you are forty or so and then you will ask, is that all there is?
Dante was showing us how God sent Jesus to give us an entirely different and more wonderful ending than we could ever imagine for ourselves. In Christ's death and resurrection which is now ours, we are where he is. Our story ends in him, in heaven above with all the saints gathered around God, rejoicing in scenes that not even the greatest mortal imaginations could construct, with God the Lord of Hosts.
HYMN INFO The hymn has been a favorite almost since its beginning. It was included in the Swedish Svedburg hymnal of 1695 and then, with some cutting of stanzas by the Swedish pastor Åstrom, in Wallin’s 1819 hymnal. Landstad included it, with some abbreviations, in his 1869 hymnal. It came to America with the Swedes and Norwegians who included its English version in their hymnals. The Service Book and Hymnal (1958) printed both the Norwegian and Swedish folk tunes. Edvard Grieg composed his anthem on the hymn in 1906, the year before he died. They were his last great works.
LINKS Norwegian tune/Via vitae in Karleby church https://youtu.be/T_epq1eUJX8
The Real Group Eric Ericson https://youtu.be/anKQj5NA_dY
Swedish tune/Alfred Fredriks Bachskör https://youtu.be/l4RnIxueuIE
Swedish tune arranged by Karen Rehnquist, Polish girls choir https://youtu.be/bRCsX973qqw