HYMN 363 Upon the Cross the Robber Prayed//The Third Word from the Cross
Danish: Gå under Jesus kors at stå
Icelandic: Kom ég nú þinum krossi að
Norwegian: Gå under Jesus kors at stå
Text: Hallgrímur Pétursson (1614-1674) Thomas Kingo (1634-1703) Tune: Bartholomew Gesius (1555-1613)
*1. Then to the robber’s words and cry
God’s own beloved Son replied
“Truly, I say that you shall be
Today in Paradise with me.”
6. The prayers of a repentant soul
Are precious in the sight of God.
He never failed, our loving Lord,
To answer them with gracious words
7. As Moses with his staff which broke
Sweet tasting water from the rock,
Much more will a repentant prayer
Draw forth great mercy from God’s care.
*8. Lord Jesus, I confess in grief,
I am no better than that thief
The one who suffered at your side.
Like him I should be crucified.
10. You hang there naked on the tree
Your hands outstretched for all to see
Your wounds and blessed blood a sight
For my poor heart to contemplate.
*11. My soul consoles itself to see
The pains you suffered all for me
That holy fount that from you springs
Will wash me clean of every sin.
*12. You are no longer on the cross
You are the King of Heaven’s vaults.
“Remember me” is still my prayer
Far up to heaven’s lofty sphere.
13. Lord speak to me, yes, every day,
Dear Jesus, let me hear you say
“Today your flesh is in the world
Abide with me within my word.”
14. Today, each morning, hear my prayer,
O keep me closer, never far
And let my heart and mind and soul
Be always near you, well and whole.
15. And when my time of death draws near
Your word of grace, oh, let me hear:
“Today, in truth your soul will be
Welcomed in Paradise by me.”
16. Oh, Lord, you were the hidden God,
Upon the cross in pain and need
And yet to you all power was giv'n—
All power on earth, all power in heav'n.
17. New courage in the face of death
I daily gain from words of faith
Today—yes now, your spirit will
Bring me toward blessedness to dwell.
*18. O Jesus, let your words commend
My solace as I face my end.
Then shall my soul’s great bliss arise:
To live with you in Paradise. Amen.
Tr. Gracia Grindal
It was Holy Week. At our place by Lake Superior on the North Shore. I was playing Sondre Bratland’s CD Mysteriet. My mother looked up and said, “I love that tune.” Sondre was singing it with the Kingo text, “Gå under Jesus kors at stå.” This is the story of a tune with several texts associated with it.
In The Concordia the tune he was singing was the tune for “The Thought of Jesus, Oh, how Sweet,” the medieval song by Bernhard of Clairvaux, Jesu dulcis memoria. It was usually sung at Communion. The penitential tune fit the mood of repentance so much a part of the sacrament which we celebrated three or four times a year, especially Ash Wednesday and Holy Thursday.
There were several hymns on the Seven Last Words that were part of the tradition. Kingo’s was the most well known, But in The Concordia there was one hymn on the Third Word from the Cross, "Upon the Cross the Robber Prayed." It was by the Icelandic poet, Hallgrímur Pétursson about whom I knew little then, but two years ago translated his entire work, The Hymns of the Passion.
The title of the translation became an important phrase for many preachers as they were closing the deal in their sermons. My Danish godfather, a pastor, who came to the Lord later in life, wanted to assure his hearers that there was still time, and would make his appeal with the sentence, "Oh, my friends, remember, Upon the Cross the Robber Prayed."
We would frequently smile because it was the signature closing of almost every one of his sermons, plus his Danish R was not quite up to the English pronunciations required for that many Rs, but we got the point.
Jesus’ promise to the dying thief has been a comfort down through the ages to sinners who have neglected repenting their sins until the last. Just one drop of blood from the dying Jesus would be enough to save. And pastors standing by them would reassure them with the phrase and maybe even the song that it was enough. The old Baroque hymnwriters made sure we knew that how Jesus treated people during his life would be the way he would treat us. Hallgrímur is a master at that as he is in this hymn.
Jesus‘ assurance that “Today” he would be with the thief in Paradise gives us another picture of death and resurrection from the one more prevalent in the hymns of the time. In many hymns, the body of the dead person is put in the grave to sleep until Christ returns to raise it up. So there is a wait. A controversy broke out in my college years called “soul sleeping.” About when one came to heaven. Was it after the resurrection at Christ's return, or as Jesus said, “Today.”
In the calendars of eternity, there is no time, so whichever one you want ends up with the same difference. In either case, we believe Jesus takes us unto himself and gives us life eternal from the moment of our first meeting. How it ends we can only imagine, and that won’t be enough. All will be raised and there will be judgment. So we pray, in the words of Hallgrímur that we may remain close to our Lord Jesus in life and death. Faith in him brings us to Paradise he promises. The one thing we know is that Paradise will be beyond anything our words can describe.
HYMN INFO Thomas Kingo tells the entire story of the seven last words in his hymn which is what Sondre is singing. Hallgrímur elaborates on them in several hymns, sometimes two hymns to a word, as with this hymn. I have cut it down considerably. The Icelandic hymnal today uses only three stanzas. It can be sung to the tune by Gesius. The Concordia and other such hymnals used six or seven since each stanza was short.
Bartholomew Gesius was a composer during the later years of the 16th century. He served parishes in the eastern part of Germany and was a well regarded composer and teacher in his life time. He died in Wittenberg.
Sondre Bratland’s version of the Kingo hymn on the Seven Last Words
Organ version of tune
Salmer Minutt for Minutt (n0. 30) The tune, but the the text is The Thought of Jesus Oh How Sweet
In the Icelandic hymnal the tune for Hallgrimur's text is Lord Keep Us Steadfast in your Word. It can be sung to the Gesius tune as well.