Updated: May 16, 2020
Ephesians 2:8-10; 2 Corinthians 12:10; Philippians 4:12-13
1. The grace of God is surely all sufficient for me,
For the strength of God is always perfect in weakness.
When I'm weak, then I am strong. This is God´s great gift. Amen.
R/ For by grace we have been saved and even faith is not our own.
It's the gift of God for us and not the works that we have done.
Don't let anybody boast of this, it's God's great gift. Amen.
2. This weakness with contentment I accept in myself,
All my hardships, pains and griefs that lie deep within myself.
When I'm weak, then I am strong. This is God's great gift. Amen.
Text: Kari Tikka (1946-) Tune: Kari Tikka (1946-)
“Who do you mean, when you say ‘we’?” the official of the Finnish National Opera company asked. Kari Tikka, a conductor and composer there, and I were proposing a performance of Tikka’s opera Luther at Central Lutheran Church in Minneapolis for our Reformation Festival in October 2001.
It had started in 1996 when the seminary Reformation festival featured the Finnish tradition. I had heard of Tikka's hymn Grace Song from a Finnish friend of his who came to the Twin Cities and wanted to meet me and show me the song. We invited the Tikka family with the baritone Esa Ruuttunen, also of the Finnish Opera. He was a Lutheran pastor. Eeva, Kari’s wife, was also a pastor at the Rock Church (Temppeliaukio) in Helsinki.
For their presentation at the October 1996 Friday night concert, a feature of the festival, Esa sang pieces from Kari’s opera, Frieda, the story of a young woman missionary from Germany to Namibia who fell in love with the Finnish missionary Marti Rautanen. He also sang Grace Song. It was an unforgettable moment.
When Kari saw Central Lutheran Church the next evening where we held the Songfest with the Nordic Choir under the direction of Weston Noble, he thought it would be a perfect venue for a church opera on Martin Luther. He was planning to write such an opera. By 2000 it was ready. It was premiered at the Rock Church December 2000. I traveled to Finland to see the premier and propose putting on the opera in Minneapolis.
Now I was sitting in the opera office with Kari. "We?" Luther Seminary, Augsburg College, and Central, I said confidently. Kari and his family had been with us now twice and we had come to be good friends. He was confident we could do it.
And we did. Over the summer I prepared an English version for the MasterWorks Chorale under the direction of Peter Hendrickson, and the seminary prepared to produce it. The Finnish National Opera, one of the best in the world, sent its top six singers, its wardrobe designer and fabulous wardrobe and the director to perform. Kari had come to love Martin Luther and became a student of his life and works. His libretto was historically accurate and theologically deep. The high point of the production was Martin Luther singing Grace Song to his opponent Erasmus in their debate on free will. It brought down the house.
Central Lutheran, which could hold almost 3000 people at the time was packed three nights in a row. It was the most exciting event of my life. The best thing about it was that it brought Luther’s preaching the wonders of God’s grace to the world. It is with gratitude to God and the Tikkas that I think of these good times. What a privilege! Thanks be to God.
Grace Song was written by Tikka after he came to know the truth of Luther’s discovery that we are saved by grace through faith alone. After he brought the song to Luther Seminary that fall of 1996, it became a favorite, especially as sung by Esa Ruuttunen. It was included in the next American Lutheran hymnal, the ELW. Tikka has written many sacred works for solo, choirs and other operas. Frieda, the opera on the history of the Finnish mission work in Namibia has a piece by the older missionary singing from Psalm 71, which has the line, Let me never be put to confusion. My father was very ill at the time. I read it to him that night while he was in the hospital for evaluation. I had just heard Esa singing it. When he heard it, he looked at me solemnly, and said, “That is my cry, too.” Tikka’s works should be more widely known outside of Finland.
Scene from the opera, Erasmus is writing to Luther in their great debate/
Grace Song/English version by Petri Tikka, Kari’s song
Grace Song/Finnish with Gospel sounds
A bit of Frieda