German: Nun ruhen alle wälder
Danish: Nu hviler mark og enge
Icelandic: Nú fjöll og byggðer blunda
Norwegian: No kviler skog og lundar
Swedish: Nu vilar folk och länder
Psalm 4:8; Psalm 16:7;
Text: Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676) Tune: Heinrich Isaac (ca. 1450-1517)
1 Now all the woods are sleeping, And night and stillness creeping O’er city, man, and beast; But thou, my heart, awake thee, To prayer awhile betake thee, And praise thy Maker ere thou rest.
2 O sun! where art thou vanished? The night thy light hath banished The ancient foe, the night; God then for now appeareth Another Sun, and cheereth My heart--'tis Jesus Christ, my Light!
3 The last faint beam is going, The golden stars are glowing In yonder dark-blue deep; Such is the glory given, When called of God to heaven, On earth no more we pine and weep.
4 To rest the body hasteth, Itself of clothes divesteth, Type of mortality! I'll put it off, and o'er me Christ throw the robe of glory, And blissful immortality!
5 Head, hands, and feet so tired Are glad the day's expired, That work comes to an end; My heart, be filled with gladness That God from all earth's sadness, And from sin's toil relief will send.
6 Ye aching limbs! now rest you, For toil hath sore oppressed you, Lie down, my weary head; A sleep shall once o'ertake you From which earth ne'er shall wake you, Within a cold and narrow bed.
7 Mine eyes scarce ope are keeping, A moment, I'll be sleeping, Soul, body, fare ye well! In grace Thy care then make them May evil ne'er o'ertake them, Thou Eye and Ward of Israel.
8 O Jesus, be my Cover! And both Thy wings spread over Thy child, and shield Thou me! Though Satan would devour me, Let angels ever o'er me Sing, "This child shall uninjured be!"
9 My loved ones, rest securely, From every evil surely Our God will guard your heads; And happy slumbers send you, And bid His hosts attend you, And golden-armed watch o'er your beds. Tr. Catherine Winkworth 1855
MEDITATION Ever since the beginning of Christian song and the development of the services for the times of the day—called the Offices of the Hours—the church has had songs that reflect the time of day. The monastic communities use them for their daily worship. Strict monastic orders observe them every three hours—Lauds, Matins, Tierce, Sexts, Nones, Vespers and Compline. Monks in those orders would have to attend worship every three hours, regardless of sleep or work routines.
Martin Luther was a faithful monk and knew these liturgies well. Each generally required an Old Testament psalm, followed by a New Testament reading, with songs and prayers. Luther used those orders for his family worship, keeping three that families could realistically use: Matins—morning; Vespers—evening; and Compline—bedtime. In his Small Catechism he suggested that each of these times include a hymn, Bible reading, catechism and teaching, a prayer, ending with another hymn. Children could be involved in these brief devotions very easily as their parents taught them the hymns, Bible stories and Catechism.
This meant that families needed hymns to sing at these times. After Luther’s death and the ending of the early Reformation struggles, hymn writers began supplying hymns for morning and evening that families could sing together and be taught the faith while doing so. They are among some of the best Lutheran hymns. Unfortunately we don't sing them so much these days.
Paul Gerhardt’s hymn is the classic Lutheran evening hymn. It followed the conventions of the evening prayers of the Compline services from the 4th century through the medieval period.
The hymn begins with the statement of the time of day. Always the position of the sun is marked—if it is rising, that is like Jesus our light; if it is setting, then Jesus should come and be our light through the darkness. Gerhardt describes beautifully the star studded night and what it means to get rest.
Then he faces the fact that sleep can be like death, or one could die during one's sleep. Many moderns have eliminated “If I should die before I wake” from the “Now I lay me down” prayer because they haven’t wanted to terrify their children. These hymns, however, face death directly and in vivid detail. For Lutherans of the Baroque era, going to bed was like preparing for one's burial--"a cold and narrow bed." Therefore one needed to be sure one was right with God, needing the protection of God’s Holy Angel—which Luther’s Morning and Evening Prayer end with. Gerhardt also includes a prayer for the entire household’s safety and good rest. Many others will elaborate rather extensively on prayers for the household, neighborhood, government, and the leaders to be kept safe and gain wisdom for leadership.
This hymn, if not all of it, has been used as the evening prayer by Lutherans ever since its appearance. Not only for sleeping, but for dying. It is said that the patriarch of Eastern Lutheranism Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, sang this as his young son died, taking comfort in the protections of the Holy Angel hovering over him. We can also take comfort in that angel who ministers to us daily, hour by hour, watching over us with “golden arms."
HYMN INFO This is one of Gerhardt’s earliest, and best, hymns, written in 1647 and published in Praxis Pietatis Melica in 1648. At the time he was serving the Nikolai church in Berlin, working with Johann Crüger, the musician. (See Hymn 9, 10, 35, 61) It is also on of Winkworth's finest translations.
Isaac’s tune was originally a secular tune: “Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen.” Isaac, considered by many to be one of the greatest composers of his era, came from the Netherlands where he composed masses, motets and songs along with music for instrumental groups. He continued his work in Italy, playing the organ in Florence and Vienna, then returning to Florence where he is thought to have died. His 500th birthday was celebrated by many musical groups in 2017 so there are many fine recordings of his works available today.
National Lutheran Choir https://youtu.be/jOKuHjFr-CE
Nicolaikirche /where Gerhardt served, now a museum/they use several tunes associated with the text, although Isaac’s is the most popular https://youtu.be/RYbZ2UVxtZs
Berlin/Bach Consort https://youtu.be/A6HgxXu4ZkM
Danish/Margin Bavnhøj/lovely soprano solo with Danish text https://youtu.be/hy_RlFv0bBs
J.S. Bach BWV 392 with guitar https://youtu.be/ENf0nFb4cO8
King's Singers/Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen