Updated: Feb 12
Text: HallgrÍmur Pétursson (1614-1674). Tune: Strassburg 1545
(For your Lenten discipline! Long but worth reading)
1. Up, up, my soul, and all my flesh!
Up, up, my heart, and sing afresh.
My thoughts and tongue help me find words
To preach the passion of our Lord.
2. St. Paul has laid this charge on us:
Proclaim the glory of the cross.
And tell the torment and the trials
Of Christ who for us poor folk died.
3. Since Jesus came to ransom me
He longed to die to set me free
My duty’s to recall his death
And thank our Lord with every breath.
4. At last grief pierces me within
How little my devotion is!
That Christ is cursed in my own place
Yet rarely I recall his grace.
5. My soul, look at the sacrifice
Which us to God has reconciled.
Consider we were all condemned,
Recalling it is joy indeed.
6. What better stills our anguished soul
Than thinking of our Savior's woe,
To end our scandal and our sin
Than looking on his bloody pain?
7. Where can my soul more clearly see
The Father's saving love for me,
Poured out with bounteous grace for us,
Than Jesus suff’ring on the cross?
8. Jesus, your Spirit, grant to me,
So all may to your glory be
Sung, written, spoken, all I do
So others may be nourished too!
9. The meal was over, Jesus raised
A hymn to his dear Father's praise.
In his last night he sang this song
And his disciples sang along.
10. God's Son, whose reign of holy truth
Embraced both heaven and the earth,
Received his bread with gratitude
And walked the earth and ate our food.
11. Indeed it is a shameful sight,
To think God's grace is ours by right.
He gives you food and nurture, too,
For this your grateful thanks are due.
12. A shame to see a simple slave
Accept good things like any knave
With boasting and with pride within
The Lord preserve me from such sin!
13. Then after singing, thanks and praise,
Our Lord departed, went his way,
A custom Jesus held to still
Then went toward Mt. Olive's hill.
14. So heed and learn your Savior's ways
To pray to God with grateful praise:
Ask him to follow everywhere.
Do not leave home without a prayer.
15. Then over Kidron, ample brook,
Our Lord with his disciples walked,
But Kidron means a muddy stream,
A lesson we can still proclaim.
16. I too must pass this brook of pain,
Step over it and not complain
Since Jesus leads me on this way
I will endure adversity.
17. Upon my inward eye I gaze
And see my Savior’s loving face.
Oh wonderful, how you have shown
The way to live, all I should know.
18. You did not seek to stir the crowd
To let their simm’ring rage break out,
Back in the garden shade did wait
To meet your captors, unafraid.
19. From this I learn to keep my peace,
Hold back my wrath, let anger cease.
More pleasing yet for you to see
My patience and humility.
20. Your way was dark with sorrow's cloud
With heavy grief your heart was bowed.
Yet, laughing, I had walked in shame
Until my surly soul was claimed.
21. Through life’s long garden paths we wend,
The grave will grasp us in the end.
So do not frolic, count the cost
Lest your eternal soul be lost.
22. Repentant tears must truly flow
Each step upon the way we go
Through death into our heav’nly home.
With joyful longing we will come
23. "Because of me," he said, "this night
All my disciples will take flight."
They did not see how this could be.
St. Peter loudly disagreed.
24. My Savior, Jesus, sees the snare
That waits my footsteps everywhere
He has the sacred cure for me
A balm that will relieve my grief.
25. "O never, never," Peter cried,
“Shall I be tempted to deny
Your name, as others fall away!”
Christ's words came true in one short day!
26. To trust our mortal flesh is vain
No heav’nly vict’ry can it gain.
The only help is God's sure grace
That helps us always win the race.
27. Help me, O Jesus for your sake.
I am like glass that quickly breaks,
Your warning voice I treasure most,
You know how weak I am to boast. Amen
Tr. Gracia Grindal
MEDITATION Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent!
Dominating the skyline in Reykjavik is the steeple of the church which honors HallgrÍmur Pétursson's place in the life and memory of Icelanders. He is remembered for his fifty hymns on the passion, PassÍusálmar, some of the greatest poetry in Lutheran hymnody. They are national treasures. Today, and every day this Lent, Icelandic national radio will feature a reading of the hymns by Steinunn Jóhannesdóttir, who has written a historical novel on the life of Hallgrimur's wife, Guðriður. Icelanders will spend the time after each of her readings discussing how well she did. For them, HallgrÍmur is the Icelandic poet, after Snorri Sturluson (1179-1241) Iceland's great medieval poet
The hymns, which follow the Gospel harmony texts for the Passion, like we hear on Passion Sunday, begin with an invocation of 8 stanzas. They then proceed to tell the story of Christ’s passion after Jesus and the disciples have finished the Last Supper. Jesus leads them across the Kidron on their way to the Garden. The poems continue all the way to Easter.
Each hymn is a sermon in the Baroque form. HallgrÍmur, an Icelandic pastor trained in Copenhagen, imbibed the form and one can read it in most every hymn. The main rhetorical move is to tell the biblical story of the passion and put us in the scene, then apply it to our lives. If Jesus forgave Peter, he will forgive me. On the way, however, the hymn teaches us many things—like in the first hymn that Jesus first gave thanks after the meal, so we should be thankful. In addition, there are meaty little insights and aphorisms about human life salted into the text. Many of these one can hear in Icelandic conversation and literature—and music.
HallgrÍmur opens Hymn 1 with the advice to be thankful as Christ was. At first I thought that was sort of like our moms telling us to say thank you. (Not a bad thing!)
On second thought, thanksgiving is a fundamental virtue for a Christian. Giving thanks is the first thing in understanding that we are creatures and have a creator, a Lord to turn to both for help and thanksgiving. As G. K. Chesterson noted, atheists have no one to thank. Knowing we need to and want to give thanks tells us we are not the masters of our fate, but another is. To be thankful is to understand that all of life is a gift. We would have nothing without the Lord's plenitude. Knowing that, puts us in an attitude of worship that makes life holy and glad.
HallgrÍmur enriches our understanding as we begin to contemplate Jesus’ harrowing journey into the depths of sin and hell for us. As I have worked on the hymns, they have given me new and deeper ways to think about Scripture and the Passion as it has to do with my spiritual life. One of my old preacher friends, the late Paul Ofstedal, read through these hymns as I was working on them. He would often say, thinking of his own preaching, "Why didn't I think of that?" Hallgrimur's reading of Scripture is fresh, always edifying and surprising. So much to be grateful for, so much to learn.
Elsewhere I have told HallgrÍmur's story. (See HYMN 19 and 244
I met Karl Sigurbjörnsson, Bishop of Iceland, in 2000, when he and his wife Kristin visited Luther Seminary. During that visit I understood his passion for HallgrÍmur's work and his expertise. When I wanted to start this project, he was an eager colleague. I would work on the translations through the day and then late at night send them off to Karl who got them in the early morning. He would work on them through his day and send his corrections and suggestions to me which I then incorporated into my translations. It was a rich time. Karl is a gifted poet, writer, translator, preacher and all around scholar.
Small congregation singing the hymn
Upp, Upp min Sál
Soprano Solo/Margrét Bóasdóttir
Steinunn Jóhannesdóttir reads it in Icelandic on national radio
Musical selections from the Passíusálmer by Sigiður Sævarsson
More compositions by Sigiður Sævarsson
Link to buy The Passion Hymns in English