Updated: May 28
Norwegian: Det Finnes en Dyrebare Rose
1 Peter 1:6-9
Text: Svein Ellingsen (1929-2020) Tune: Egil Hovland (1926-2013)
1. I know of a lovely flower
A rose that the snows cannot fade,
It blooms in the frost of winter
With blossoms of bright crimson red.
2. It bloomed by the mountain of Sinai
For Moses with bright burning flames,
The burning bush spoke of God’svpromise
To save us, when all was at stake.
3. It blossomed in Bethlehem’s winter
It blossomed in Nazareth’s spring
It blossomed like flames on a thornvbush
At Golgotha, where sharp thorns didvsting.
4. It blossoms today here, among us,
Its fragrance a balm for us all
For those who are bowed down invanguish.
At life’s bitter harvest of gall.
5. O rose, burning there in winter,
In sorrow and cold and pain!
O emblem of life made holy!
God’s Love is your only name!
Tr. Gracia Grindal 1993
All that we could see on the stage was a piano. It was the auditorium of the
Norwegian Music High School. October 1989. The country was celebrating the 60th
birthday of Svein Ellingsen (1929-2020). There were lectures, concerts and church
services throughout the country featuring his life and work.
I was in Oslo for my sabbatical. My sister had just told me she had breast cancer. She
would need me to help care for her two kids, ten and five. I had to return in time for
her operation and, it turned out, a rigorous course of chemo. My time remaining in Oslo was the week of the Ellingsen jubilee.
Suddenly three students walked on stage. One sat down at the piano, the other held a violin, another was a soprano soloist.The room filled with sound. It was this song. I had not heard it before. Its beauty transfigured the whole room. Egil Hovland (1924-2013) had just written the tune, and the setting. The image of a rose in winter, the burning bush like a rose, of the thorns of Jesus’ crown, still blooming among us, “its fragrance a balm for us all,” spoke to all the suffering in the world, and to mine.
The next week I returned to St. Paul. My sister had her lumpectomy. The next day,
our great aunt, like a grandmother to us, became ill and died. Between our aunt’s
death and funeral, my sister had to have a full mastectomy since the lymph nodes
had contained cancer cells. As she was in the doctor’s office getting this news, I sat in
the waiting room. This hymn was singing in my mind. Everything would be all right,
a voice said. But the news seemed bad. The anguish of “Life’s bitter gall” seemed to
be flooding over us.
The hymn assured me that this “emblem of life made holy” was God’s Love, Jesus. No
matter what happened, his love would not fade nor disappear. His promises were
firm; he had risen from the dead. He would be with us always. He sent his Holy Spirit
to make that possible.
Our lives as Christians are made holy by the Holy Spirit. In that holiness we are
given the grace to see that the simple gifts or sorrows besetting us are drenched
with God’s love. The beauty of that moment shimmers in the moments I am given
now, with my sister who made it through very well, and her daughter and son and
now her grandchildren. Today I live in a loft apartment with her son and his wife,
and five children, who, with their smiles and rosy cheeks, daily bring me God’s Love.
Thank you, Jesus!
Svein Ellingsen died on Palm Sunday, 2020. I met him at Hymn Society conferences
frequently over the years. He became a friend. A true aesthete and something of a
mystic, he was also a painter, something of a miniaturist featuring churches and
religious images. He could never quite overcome his sorrow over the tragic death of
one of his little girls killed by a car as they were walking in the town. He suffered
depression often. One could sense it in his aspect when we spoke. This text, while
not among his first, seems to speak to that sorrow.
He was the foremost hymn text writer in Norway during the past 50 years. For years
the Norwegian government had granted him a stipend so he could write hymns.
Over forty of his texts are in the 2013 Norwegian hymnal. The committee that
worked on the Norwegian hymnal of 1985 was something of a star-studded group.
Egil Hovland, Trond Kverno, Eyvind Skeie, Britt G. Hallqvist, Knut Nystedt, and many
others worked together in what has been called the Hymn Explosion of the
Scandinavians. It started in the 1960s with Anders Frostenson, the Swedish pastor.
They wanted to produce worship materials that could speak to the new secular
world of the day. What they developed is worth attending to. American Lutherans have not really been introduced to this treasury. It is a serious loss. Here are several performances of the hymn. The last link is a brief glimpse of the festival for Svein on his 90th birthday last fall in Trefoldighet church in Oslo.
The soprano solo with violin and piano
A baritone version
Festival in Arendal church