HYMN 228 Who keeps the Watch in Creation's Night?
Danish: Nogen må våge i verdens nat
German: Eine muss wachen in langer Nacht
Norwegian: Noen må våke I verdens Natt
Swedish: Någon skall vaka I världens natt
Text: Svein Ellingsen (1929-2020). Tune: Trond Kverno (1945-)
1. Who keeps the watch in creation’s night?
Who keeps the faith in our darkness?
Who knows the weakest brother’s worth?
God. let your will be done on earth
Help us to follow your word!
2. Who shares a sister’s distress and need?
Who will show patience and kindness?
Who will stand up for another’s right?
God, let your kingdom come with might
Help us to follow your word!
3. Lord, you keep watch in creation’s night,
Lord, you are near in our darkness.
Lord, you will show us Christ’s day and pow’r
Even in life’s most fearful hour
We are with you, Lord, our God!
Tr. Hedda Durnbaugh (1930-)
If you had asked the late Svein Ellingsen which hymn he thought was his most important, he would say this hymn was his flagship. It is a very simple text, but questions are somewhat unusual in a hymn. Over the years it has become clear to me that hymns have to be pretty meat and potatoes. You can’t have much irony, humor is not really possible, except for some like Britt G. Hallqvist which I have pointed to. And questions like these in a hymn are somewhat out of the ordinary. The nice thing about the shape of the hymn is that all the questions are answered in the third stanza.
Christ is the one who watches and we are the ones he helps to keep his word. One can hear the echo of Christ's request to the disciples in the Garden, "My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me." Of course, the disciples, as we would have, failed that request so we need to pray for help to watch in the darkest night.
Ringing affirmations of the faith that seem not to have been affected by any doubt or lack of confidence in God may not sound right to the contemporary ear. Those who love to sing Ellingsen’s hymns feel that his expressions of some uncertainty speak to their own issues with the faith--which he resolves in the last stanza.
Many of us do feel helpless in the face of all that is going on in the world—politics, pandemics, riots in the streets, and then our virtual world. This hymn asks Jesus to help us do what he has called us to do. But we are weak, that is for sure. Even Peter, the rock, is a mess. It is good, I think, that the church knows this about its greatest heroes. Sin is ubiquitous. It runs deep in all of us. And still we are called to help our neighbors. In order to do that we need to see things from their point of view--even how we look to others.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the great Russian writer, accepted the Christian faith while in the gulag. He writes in his Gulag Archipeligo of coming to understand that he could do the evil that was done to him. The line between good and evil did not run between groups of people and their ideas, it ran right through each human heart. In his account of the evil that surrounded him and millions of other prisoners he noted that “to do evil a human being must first believe that what he’s doing is good, or else that it’s a well considered act in conformity with natural law. It is in the nature of a human being to seek a justification for his actions.”
What he discovered is that the thing that ultimately causes the worst terror is when one refuses to see things from the point of view of one’s opponents or victims. When one fails to do that, unimaginable terror can be the result, as we learned from the Gulag—some estimate Lenin and Stalin presided over 2000 deaths a day for over thirty years.
What many fear today is that with the decline of Christianity in the West, people are finding certainty in a religious faith in their ideology. I have often thought that I could question everything in Christian theology from the Incarnation to the Resurrection and my ideas would be entertained by many who call themselves Christians as interesting and worth discussing. But if we start to get into secular ideologies, there seems to be not much sense that the other might be right or we might be wrong. Civil wars are not fought by people who are uncertain of their beliefs. That is why they are so terrible. Christians have been taught to love their enemies. We need to remember that now as one side or another loses this election or wins it. We are called to love and serve each other, all those in need.
Ellingsen’s hymn understands that we need Christ to help us see what we must do.
We pray God will give us the insight to see life from the other's point of view, our sister’s or our brother’s and ask Christ Jesus to help us both have humility before what we see and believe, and work to bring his love to each other as well. Something to be reminded of this day as people vote and the votes are counted.
This was a hymn written for a vigil service Ryd vei for Herren, for St. John’s Eve, Midsummer night. Svein was thinking of the event one fall evening as he was beginning to write the hymns. The phrase, "Someone must watch/Noen må våke!" came to him, and he thought of the evening service he was preparing. It fit with the Gethsemane evening as well. From there he went on to write it. Four hymns from that service have become part of the Norwegian hymnal. Trond Kverno’s settings of these hymns made for a fine collection. The hymn is popular throughout the Nordic countries.
LINKS Oslo Gospel Choir https://youtu.be/ZiL_6OVrQVs
Nordstrand Church Choir https://youtu.be/r3xpRh-GswI
SamenKlang Majorstua Kirken https://youtu.be/uJ7IsrQgJhg
Danish/Sørup Kirke Svendborg https://youtu.be/QSBo9ini8Xs
Jazz piano version Gunner Halle /Espen Eriksen https://youtu.be/_cHp2DOFDH8
Soprano solo Heidi Hvaal Leiros