Updated: May 3, 2020
German: Auf, auf, mein Herz
Text: Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676) Tune: Johann Crüger (1598-1662)
1. Awake, my heart, with gladness,
See what today is done;
Now, after gloom and sadness,
Comes forth the glorious sun.
My Savior there was laid
Where our bed must be made
When to the realms of light
Our spirit wings its flight.
2. The foe in triumph shouted
When Christ lay in the tomb;
But lo, he now is routed,
His boast is turned to gloom.
For Christ again is free;
In glorious victory
He who is strong to save
Has triumphed o'er the grave.
3. This is a sight that gladdens--
What peace it doth impart!
Now nothing ever saddens
The joy within my heart.
No gloom shall ever shake,
No foe shall ever take
The hope which God's own Son
In love for me hath won.
4. Now hell, its prince, the devil,
Of all their pow'r are shorn;
Now I am safe from evil,
And sin I laugh to scorn.
Grim death with all his might
Cannot my soul affright;
It is a pow'rless form,
Howe'er it rave and storm.
5. The world against me rages,
Its fury I disdain;
Though bitter war it wages,
Its work is all in vain.
My heart from care is free,
No trouble troubles me.
Misfortune now is play,
And night is bright as day.
6. Now I will cling forever
To Christ, my Savior true;
My Lord will leave me never,
Whate'er He passes through.
He rends death's iron chain;
He breaks through sin and pain;
He shatters hell's dark thrall;
I follow Him through all.
7. He brings me to the portal
That leads to bliss untold,
Whereon this rhyme immortal
Is found in script of gold:
"Who there My cross has shared
Finds here a crown prepared;
Who there with Me has died
Shall here be glorified."
Tr. John Kelly 1833-1890
We are probably talking to ourselves a lot these days. Not just because we may be
isolated, away from others, but because we are in some ways divided between what we
know and what we feel. We can talk ourselves into despair, grim resolution or joy, with
some success. Most of us do talk to ourselves, whether aloud or silently. I know I do—
sometimes fussing with an old memory that upsets me. Sometimes I will even holler, oh,
no, or words to that effect. My five-year old great nephew will ask, “What, Gracia?”
“Nothing,” I say.
Gerhardt uses that convention in this hymn. Speaking to his heart, he encourages it to see
everything in the light of the resurrection. Everything is changed. One could imagine in
this conversation that Gerhardt is downhearted and depressed for every good reason. He
wrote it in 1648, the year that the Thirty Years War ended, an awful time. In the
Brandenburg region where Gerhardt was living, scholars estimate over half the
population perished. Not only the violence of armies killing and pillaging, but pestilence
and plague ravaging the land. By faith in the risen Christ he could say, “Misfortune now
is play,/And night is bright as day.”
We need words from our Lord to center us and give us peace in difficult times. I
remember when we were standing in the emergency room where my father was fighting
for his life after a terrible car accident. He had suffered a massive head injury. The doctor
said, “You should call a pastor.” Pastor? Dad was our pastor. Then we remembered our
good friend, Luthard Gjerde. He came quickly. As he walked into the room, past the
curtains and the beeping instruments measuring his vitals, now so frail, he said, “I have
one word for you. ‘Whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.’”
The verse gave us renewed footing in a truth we lived by, but hadn’t seemed to need as
we did just then. As a seminary professor, I was stunned. Of course! This is why we teach
and preach: the Gospel is the only word that can be spoken in the face of death. The
resurrection gives confidence and joy. Talk to yourselves as Gerhardt did. “No gloom
shall ever shake,/No foe shall ever take/The hope which God's own Son/In love for me
Johann Crüger’s tune for this, musically, rises from the depths into the heights, matching
the text very well. Bach used it in one of his settings of Sacred Songs (BWV 441) and it
remains a favorite among German Lutherans. Crüger, as organist in the Nikolai church in
Berlin, also suffered the ravages of the war, but continued to publish his volume of
hymns, Praxis Pietatis Melica, despite the unsettled times. Maybe working on these
glorious hymns with Paul Gerhardt in the middle of all the slaughter made what they said
ring true. This hymn appeared in the 1648 edition.
Concordia Publishing House version
Kirsten Flagstad/ Bach’s setting with the estimable Gerald Moore