HYMN 71 A Mighty Fortress is our God
German: Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott
Danish: Vor Gud han er så fast en borg
Norwegian: Vår Gud han er så fast en borg
Swedish: Vår Gud är oss en väldig borg
Text: Martin Luther (1483-1546) Tune: Martin Luther (1483-1546)
1 A mighty fortress is our God, A sword and shield victorious He breaks the cruel oppressor’s rod And wins salvation glorious. The old satanic foe Has sworn to work us woe! With craft and dreadful might He arms himself to fight, On earth he has no equal!
2. No strength of ours can match his might! We would be lost, rejected. But now a champion comes to fight, Whom God himself elected. You ask who this may be? The Lord of hosts is he! Christ Jesus, mighty Lord. God’s only Son, adored. He holds the field victorious. 3. Tho’ hordes of devils fill the land All threatening to devour us, We tremble not, unmoved we stand, They cannot overpow’r us. Let this world’s tyrant rage; In battle we’ll engage! His might is doomed to fail; God’s judgment will prevail! One little word subdues him.
4. God’s Word forever shall abide, No thanks to foes who fear it; For God himself fights by our side With weapons of the Spirit. Were they to take our house, Goods, honor, child or spouse, Though life be wrenched away, They cannot win the day. The Kingdom’s ours forever! Tr. Catherine Winkworth, alt.
MEDITATION It feels like "the world with devils is filled" as we listen to stories of fires, looting and the destruction of many businesses and lives in the Twin Cities. The children are anxious as we are. When will order be restored? When will we be able to resume our lives? How do I explain to the five year old why my pharmacy of thirty four years where he and I have gone several times was burned to the ground last night? He said he thought it was very angry people who did it. And yes, that is true. And all this threatens to devour us.Can I reassure him that the governor has now taken over and will use the National Guard to restore order and there will be peace? It hasn't happened yet. What will he think when he awakens?
I can assure him that I will be here for him, but I am not young anymore. I can assure him his very wonderful parents will take care of him. But ultimately we are all fallible, mortal and frail The hymn tells us only one thing endures..
One thinks of all the children around the world who have asked such questions and been given no answers except that their family loves them. We know there are multitudes of children who cannot even hear that. The tyrant rages.
When things are going well, we feel self sufficient and in control, but when there is nothing else we can bank on, then we need to go to something that endures. Luther says God's Word is all that endures. We learn that is true. Christ is not visible, but when we see that he is all there is to hang on to, then we know he is more real than anything else. He will win the day.
Singing it or hearing it, I believe it. But I keep needing to hear it. The list of things Luther says the foe can take is pretty complete. We see that nothing in this life can be considered ultimate. The one thing that will not disappear is God's Word, a little word. Deep down we know that is true because we have always known everything we have can be taken from us. Maybe we come to realize these things, which we love more than life itself, are not where we can find life. Life comes from the Lord. He allows us to thoroughly enjoy the gifts of family and friends, and even stuff; We pray that the ones we love will also build their lives and futures on the Word--which cannot be taken from them. We tremble not! At home church during the sheltering in place we sing to the little ones, with all the gestures, "The wiseman built his house upon the rock, and the house on the rock stood firm." Big people acting like children with them, as the blessings come down. Another way to tell them, "God's Word forever shall abide!"
This is on the list of the top ten hymns around the world. Martin Luther wrote this hymn, tune and text, sometime before 1529. We can find no trace of when or where except that it was done by 1529. Some think he wrote it after great despair over the loss of his little daughter. Some think that experience plunged him into such despair that he was only lifted out of it by writing this hymn. It has been called the Battle hymn of the Reformation. There are many times in history when it was sung as a way to protest.
One important time was in February 1942 when the Quislings wanted Bishop Arne Fjellbu (1890-1962) to lead the service of celebration of the new Quisling government in Nidaros Cathedral. The Quisling pastor Blessing-Dahle did celebrate it in the morning. Bishop Fjellbu held an alternative service in the afternoon. People began to gather around the building. As they gathered, someone began singing "A Mighty Fortress" and soon the entire crowd was singing it. It was a peaceful moment of resistance in the face of brutal oppression. Fjellbu was born in Decorah, Iowa, and with his family moved back to Norway in 1900 where he attended school and became a Norwegian pastor. He was very devoted to the Oxford Group led by Frank Buchman and would later say that the Oxford Group with its stress on Christian renewal gave the people courage to stand up to the Nazis.
NB: One thing that Americans do not have is an agreement on a common standard translation. This makes it impossible for Lutherans from different traditions to sing together from memory.
LINKS Oslo Domkirke Kor
National Lutheran Choir https://youtu.be/Y7gWH_T7bvE
John Gardiner/Bach Cantata--the cantata is stirring https://youtu.be/7i2z7prCyDY
Mogens Dahl Kammerkor