HYMN 36 Death Must Give Way
Updated: Jan 20, 2021
Norwegian text: Døden må vike
1 Corinthians 15:15-18
Text: Svein Ellingsen (1929-2020) Tune: Conrad Baden (1908-1989),
1. Death will give way to the might of God’s kingdom.
You that were dead are now Lord and our stay,
Christ, you are king and are standing beside us
Here as we suffer attacks ev’ry day.
2. When we feel weak and our fears overcome us
We can go forward with hope every hour.
Life’s resurrection in Easter’s bright morning
Shows us the wonder in baptism’s pow’r.
3. Life, even death, has been utterly altered
We see the rainbow in baptism’s spring.
Faith has been giv’n us, God’s kingdom will triumph.
Darkness, which bound us, has lost its sharp sting.
4. God’s promise stands when our future is threatened,
Nothing can wrest us away from God’s arm.
Someday our Lord will take back his creation,
Earth will be freed from all hurt and all harm.
5. Death will give way to the might of God’s kingdom.
Hidden in earth the new seedlings now lie.
Hail, resurrection, the sign we will conquer,
Hail, resurrection, the light as we die.
Tr. Gracia Grindal 2019, Copyright Svein Ellingsen 1975
In times of epidemic, the fear of death from some invisible force, like the corona virus or
bacteria during the bubonic plague, causes people rightly to panic. Daniel Defoe’s A
Journal of the Plague Year in 1665 shows behaviors almost exactly like we are
experiencing now. The effects of the bacteria, however, were much more drastic than
what we are seeing: people dropping dead in the street, houses being locked up so the
people inside died for lack of water and food, huge burial grounds in the city as people
who could fled to the country.
Often, Defoe writes, he would hear people in the streets crying out in repentance, I have
been a thief, God have mercy. Up against death, they knew they had nothing except the
promise of God in Christ. Ultimately, it is all we have. “Death will give way to the pow’r
of God’s kingdom.”
When Svein Ellingsen died on Palm Sunday, the corona virus had shut down
everything in Norway. The fear of sickness and death spread through the land.
Fortunately for the family, his wife, son and daughter were able to be at his bedside
in the rest home where he died.
At the funeral, such as it was, his son Eystein spoke movingly about his father’s last
days. To the thirty at the service in Stokken church in Saltrød in Arendal, sitting in
the pews two meters apart, he noted that Svein had planned his funeral down to the
last detail: the texts, the hymns, the speakers, etc. Without a doubt it would have
been a national event, packed with people wanting to give their last respects to their
Among the hymns people referenced when they spoke of his death was this one.
Svein had the idea of the hymn in mind for some time. It was 1975. He was at a
committee meeting in Oslo for liturgy and hymns. As they all were leaving, Svein elected
to remain in the Indremisjon hotel in Oslo. He essentially locked himself in the room
until it was done some twenty-four hours later. He always marked it as one of his keepers
as a text.
Two bishops writing in his memory in Vårt Land noted that the second stanza spoke to
the Easter victory as well as the corona time we are enduring. “When we feel weak and
our fears overcome us/We can go forward with hope every hour./Life’s resurrection in
Easter’s bright morning/Shows us the wonder in baptism’s pow’r.”
Svein marked his birthday as the day of his baptism. In it he understood he had died and
risen in Christ. That death, for him, was the big one. His own death, as per this hymn,
would bring him into the light. Thus he could die in confidence, believing in the promise
of the rainbow shining out of the baptismal water. We can rest in that promise, no matter
The composer of the tune Conrad Baden was an organist, composer and teacher at
Norway’s Music High School. He wrote several tunes for the current Norwegian hymnal.
He served as organist at Stromsø church and Ris church in Oslo.
Salmer i Majorstua church