Updated: Apr 24
Norwegian: Guds Menighet er verdens største under
Danish: Guds Menighed er verdens største under
Text: Ronald Fangen (1895-1946) Tunes: Anfinn Hans Øien (1922-2018); Arild Edvin Sandvold (1895-19845)
1. God’s church on earth is greatest of all wonders,
While worldly things soon change and pass away
Christ is the same today and still forever,
Upon the rock his church is built to stay.
While earthly kingdoms rise, then quickly perish,
The church blooms forth just like an April day.
2. One day all hate and anger will have melted
Like ice and snow beneath the summer breeze.
Satan will fall, his worldly pow’rs all vanquished
By angel hosts who fight God’s enemies.
With jubilation, heav’n will reap its harvest
And, filled with joy, see Jesus as he is.
3. O blessed hope, the sure and certain promise,
God’s mind cannot be changed. His Word goes on.
When night seems long, our struggles filled with anguish,
Just like the Morning Star, as bright as noon.
It stands, for God has said, “Life brings its trials,
But fight with courage, I am coming soon!”
Tr. Gracia Grindal 2011
World War II in Europe ended seventy-five years ago this week. If it hadn’t been for the virus, this past week the world would be marking the anniversary of the ending of hostilities in Europe with major festivities. We have caught a few glimpses of dignitaries honoring those who defended freedom during the war, but we have mostly been thinking of the present. This is regrettable; there are many history lessons to learn from this time that are quickly fading from memory.
Hitler and his mistress, Eva Braun, killed themselves on April 30. Germany sued for peace on May 7. May 4 Denmark had been liberated and celebrated on May 5th. On May 8, Norway celebrated its liberation after five years of occupation.
It had been a time of great fear, grinding poverty and dangerous resistance. Some of the best movies to come out in the past twenty years have shown us the bravery and difficulties of both the Norwegian and Danish resistance. Max Manus: Man of War, The King’s Decision, Flame and Citron, April 9, 1940, to name a few, plus a TV series on the heavy water work in Rjukan. All worth watching during our shut down.
The writer of our hymn today, Ronald Fangen, one of Norway’s better known writers at the time, was thrown into prison by the Nazis in October 1940 and released in June 1941. While he had been a friend of the church, in 1934, he experienced a conversion that completely changed him. What was called the Oxford Group had swept the world through the ministry of a Lutheran pastor from Pennsylvania, Frank Buchman (1878-1961). His motto was the four absolutes: Honesty, purity, unselfishness, and love, which influenced the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, among many other groups.Although Fangen drifted away from the movement, he remained a deeply committed Christian.
Sverre Norborg, an Augsburg professor, who spoke frequently at Mindekirken, and later served MInnekirken in Chicago as pastor, signed on to the movement for a time, but criticized it later. It came to Augsburg College with him in the 1930s when my parents were there. It made an impression on them in the changed lives of many around them.
While the hymn was written for the 100th anniversary of the Norwegian Mission Society in 1942, one cannot read and sing the text without thinking of its context. Fangen's text is an indictment of the Third Reich which had been intended to last for 1000 years.
Fangen encourages the singers: earthly kingdoms, having risen, will perish. Christ will come again like an April day, hate and anger will melt like ice and snow. The people singing the hymn at the celebration in Oslo’s cathedral in 1942 all read between the lines knowing what the writer meant, taking hope in Christ's exhortation: But fight with courage, I am coming soon!”
Christian hope knows both that earthly kingdoms perish, that the Church militant must fight against their lies, but that the church triumphant lasts forever, the greatest wonder in the world. Rejoice, take courage. Christ is coming soon.
The Norwegian Mission Society, NMS, founded in 1842, has had a stellar history. Through it, and several other such mission groups, it is said, Norway sent out more missionaries per capita than any other country. While in prison and recovering from an illness, Fangen wrote the libretto for a Cantata on the history of the mission society, Mission Cantata on the Norwegian MIssion Society through 100 years/Missjons cantata over Det Norske misjonsselskap 100 Mars jubileum, 8-9 august 1942. This hymn was taken from a five stanza hymn describing the history of the Christian faith, 1) from Babel to Christ, 2) from Christ until this day, 3) and from today until the return of Christ.
The music for the cantata was by Arild Sandvold. The hymn was first sung in the Oslo cathedral that August. The last three stanzas were set to a new tune by Anfin Oien in 1967. One can hear the influence of Ralph Vaughan Williams' "For all the Saints" in the beginning bass note before the stanza begins. The hymn has also appeared in the Swedish and Danish hymnals of past generations. Several new melodies have been written for it lately. The original tune by Sandvold appears in the latest Norwegian Hymnal 2013. You can hear it on the first link.
Oslo Cathedral Choir/the original tune the congregation and choir sang in 1942
Ringsaker church May 3, 2020 go to ca. minute 4:15
Iver Kleive Kyrie