HYMN 238 They Shall Walk through the Gates of the City
Norwegian: Dei skal gå til den heiliga byen
Swedish: De skall gå till den heliga staden
Stanza 1-3: Britt G. Hallqvist (1914-1997) Stanza 4: Oscar Åhlen. Tune: Egil Hovland (1924-2013)
1. They will walk through the gates of the city,
And be gathered together again.
They will walk through the portals of heaven
To an unknown world and another life,
R/ They’ll be singing, singing, yes singing,
A new, jubilant song!
2. They’ll remember the green fields of summer
And the flowers of springtime once more.
They’ll forget all the sorrow and suff’ring
Of an ancient world in a vanished life:
3. They will meet with their friends and their fam’ly
Which they lost to the earth long ago.
They will play with the saints and the angels
In God’s Paradise, they will dance for joy:
4. They will meet with the Lord of Creation,
They will gaze at his wonderful face.
And be changed by the light they see shining
From the fount of wisdom and grace: R/
Tr, Gracia Grindal Text and Music Copyright Norsk Musikkforlag A.S/1976
When Martin Luther’s son asked him what heaven would be like, Luther described it in terms that would make a young boy want to go there. It would be a garden, there would be apples and pears, with ponies and golden fifes and silver crossbows. It was this idea that Britt G. used in her hymn for All Saints’ Day and funerals, especially those for children. She wanted to make it so death would not be so terrifying and heaven a wonderful place a child might desire.
As she and Egil Hovland worked on it, they ended the hymn with the third stanza. With its tune and charming imagery it became somewhat popular and was included in both the Norwegian hymnal (1984) and the Swedish hymnal (1986). However, the Norwegian hymnal committee wanted another stanza, one that mentioned God and salvation more explicitly. So they got Oscar Åhlen to add the fourth stanza which became standard in the Norwegian and Swedish hymnals.
When I was translating it and asking her advice, she wanted to make sure that I would add no mention of images that would frighten a young person as they faced their death or the deaths of others in their midst. I was able to do that simply by translating what was in her work.
I have no objection to her concerns. Death is terrible, but heaven is joy. My father criticized a lot of contemporary preaching because it did not present our place of ending as a beautiful place or existence we might long for. He used to say, they don’t end their sermons, they just quit.
The Christian faith is a journey towards an ending (the Greek word telos) meaning both goal and conclusion of the journey. The end brings one to a new beginning, one for which Scripture gives us ample descriptions, using rapturous images of what heaven will be like. If life is an endless round with no goal in sight, we miss the entire story of salvation. Jesus Christ came into the world to bring us heaven, so we could find our ending in him.
What that is like cannot be explained in temporal or physical images, but those images can be used to make us long for what we have been promised. What will an existence or a world without time be like? We can't really describe it, but we know it will be the end--conclusion and goal--of our journey. And a beginning of something we can only imagine.
Most stories have beginnings, middles and ends. Northrup Frye, the great literary critic of the last century, described the Christian story in those terms, but with a twist. For Frye, the Christian journey was a middle, ending, and beginning. We are found midway in our life’s journey, as Dante had it, about to drown in despair. God sends his Son to end our suffering and rescue us from death. That rescue is a conversion, a complete turning around from our old life into a new life. Eternal life. Abundant life.
It's all there in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth on him will not perish but have everlasting life." The Gospel in a nutshell. Sing this new, jubilant song!
This hymn was included in a collection of Hovland’s hymns featuring Hallqvist's texts. It appeared in both the Norwegian and Swedish hymnal of the last century and now in the new Norwegian hymnal of 2013. It is fun to watch it being sung during the Hymn Marathon on November 28-30, 2014, when Norwegians sang straight through their entire new hymnal. Choirs from around the country, even in Decorah, Iowa, sang a number of hymns, maybe five or six in one section, from the beginning to the ending of the hymnal. The program went around Norway and featured the places, the choirs, the musicians, and the churches, telling the story of the hymn as well. It lasted around 60 hours from beginning to end and was an event like none other in the history of hymnals and hymn singing. Explore the site in the link below. You can still see the whole thing on the NRK website! Thrilling!
Choir singing this hymn from the Norwegian hymnal marathon on November 29, 2014 Salmeboka minutt for minutt (slide the pointer to the last song in group10, No.272)
Swedish church choir https://youtu.be/7bp2MA7UbHM
Solo, Mario Ouwens https://youtu.be/CUk8-CGEKlo
Choral prelude https://youtu.be/nV_3wEKY6d0