HYMN 298 A Multitude Comes from the East and the West
Norwegian: Der mange skal komme fra øst og fra vest
M. B. Landstad (1802-1882) Tune: Swedish 1694
1. A multitude comes from the east and the west To sit at the feast of salvation With Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the blest, Obeying the Lord's invitation. Have mercy upon us, O Jesus!
2. O God, let us hear when our Shepherd shall call In accents persuasive and tender, That while there is time we make haste, one and all, And find Him, our mighty Defender. Have mercy upon us, O Jesus!
3. All trials shall be like a dream that is past, Forgotten all trouble and mourning. All questions and doubts have been answered at last, When rises the light of that morning. Have mercy upon us, O Jesus!
4. The heavens shall ring with an anthem more grand Than ever on earth was recorded. The blest of the Lord shall receive at His hand The crown to the victors awarded. Have mercy upon us, O Jesus!
Tr. Peer Strømme
Intended for the third Sunday in Epiphany this old chestnut is now in the Christian hope section of the latest hymnals. I have always loved the picture of sitting at the banquet with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and multitudes from all around the globe.
It is a mission hymn which fits with the tradition of Epiphany as mission time. I have often marveled at the generosity of the missionaries, their concern and care for those who have not heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The church could easily have enjoyed its own relationship with Jesus and left everyone else alone. In fact the question of whether or not to send missionaries out to the world was hotly debated among 17th and 18th century German Lutherans. If, however, we take seriously Christ’s command to go to all the world, as Landstad has it, “obeying the Lord’s invitation” with the Gospel, then it is imperative to do so.
While Jesus came to us from an out of the way small town and people, from the first, his ministry was to all the world. He came as King. And his reign is universal and forever.
While the mission movement has its critics, and to be sure some criticisms are valid, such as the treaty after the Opium War in 1842 which brought both missionaries and opium to China. On the other hand, it was a world wide movement that brought people of little means together in a project to help each other. across boundaries
One of my family’s heroes was Lars Skrefsrud (1840-1910), the missionary to the Santali. He came from a very poor family in Norway and, while known to be very bright, got into trouble with his drunkenness and resultant criminal behavior which landed him in jail. During that time, he had spiritual awakening that utterly changed him. He set about learning languages. He felt called to be a missionary. After he was refused entrance at the mission high school in Stavanger where he had hoped to train to be a missionary to the Zulu, he went to the Johannes Evangelista Gossners Mission society school with the Dane Hans Peter Børresen. They traveled together to serve in the Gossner mission among the Santals. Soon they established their own mission, the Santal Mission.
He was an avid translator—his study of the Santali language broke new ground; he published a book of hymns in the Santali language which used Santali melodies; he became something of an ethnologist of the area and his observations of the culture and lives of the people are still used. His brilliance as a linguist earned him a reputation around the world. When he had an audience with the king he was asked if he really did know 42 languages to which he replied, it didn’t matter how many languages one knew, it was what you said in them.
He was a powerful preacher. He spent 1894-1895 traveling in America preaching revival and giving people an awareness of his work among the Santali people and generally encouraging young people to become missionaries. Many did--I know Luther Seminary Professor Emeritus Paul Martinson and his sister Charlotte Gronseth's grandparents were moved to become missionaries by his preaching. Those who did not become missionaries, often conceived a burning interest in mission after hearing him preach.
Skrefsrud was a strong and charismatic man who impressed the young. Edvard Munch, the great Norwegian painter, who came from a family of theologians, admired Skrefsrud. As did thousands. My Grandmother Grindal’s Bible contained a copy of the Santal Missionary monthly journal. My aunt Borghild kept connections with people she had learned to know through correspondence with the Santal Mission. One emigrant, from the Santali mission who lived in Fargo, came to her funeral.
One would never have thought when the boy Lars was cooling his heels in jail that here was someone whose work and ministry would change the lives of thousands around the world. But there it is: he did. And thousands, maybe millions, will one day sit together at the feast of salvation with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob because of Skrefsrud's mission of spreading the light of our Lord.
This hymn was first published in 1861 in Landstad’s Kirke-Salmebog: Et Udkast/Church hymnal: a selection.
Landstad, a pastor in the Norwegian church, was asked by the church department to compile a hymnal for the Norwegian church which had never had its own hymnal before. This was about the time that the movement toward a Norwegian language not so Danish, called Nynorsk (New Norwegian) was taking hold. While the purists who prefer Nynorsk think Landstad is still very Danish, people like the Norwegian American Pastor Vilhelm Koren, the editor of Synodens Salmebog in America, thought the language of Landstad too Norwegian and common.
In any case, this hymn has remained an important hymn in the tradition, despite issues with some of its content which hymnal committees have been quick to change. It became a part of the Norwegian American hymn treasury and appeared in the Lutheran Hymnary 1912 and The Concordia.(1932). The Swedish tune has also endeared it to the community.
The Vanishing Nordic Chorale https://youtu.be/FGU5Lrck3Yc
John Eggert Short Chorale Preludes https://youtu.be/6_AlIiRRjdk
Bjarte Adland/Jazz version/organ and bass clarinet https://youtu.be/vCCuBmGacgY
The Lutheran Organist https://youtu.be/G9MS57osWeI