HYMN 97 How Marvelous God's Greatness/Den blomstertid
Danish: Nu blomstertiden kommer
Finnish: Jo joutui armas aika
Norwegian: Den blomstertid nå kommer
Swedish: Den blomstertid nu kommer
Text: Valdimar Briem (1848-1930) Tune: Swedish folk tune (1697)
1. How marvelous God’s greatness, how glorious His might! To this the world bears witness in wonders day and night. In form of flower and snowflake, in morn’s resplendent birth, In afterglow at even, in sky and sea and earth. 2. Each tiny floweret whispers the great life-giver’s Name; The mighty mountain masses His majesty proclaim; The hollow vales are hymning God’s shelter for His own; The snow-capped peaks are pointing to God’s almighty throne. 3. The ocean’s vast abysses in one grand psalm record The deep mysterious counsels and mercies of the Lord; The icy waves of winter are thundering on the strand, E’en grief’s chill stream is guided by God’s all-gracious hand. 4. The starry hosts are singing through all the light-strewn sky Of God’s majestic temple and palace courts on high; When in these outer chambers such glory gilds the night, What the transcendent brightness of God’s eternal light!
Tr. Charles Pilcher (1879-1961)
Midsummer. Exactly six months until Christmas Eve. As most readers know, Saint John’s Eve is celebrated in the north at this time. The church took the pagan celebration of the summer solstice, with its fires, and parties, and made it into the day of John the Baptist, who pointed to Christ his entire life, the first when he acknowledged Christ while still in his mother Elizabeth’s womb. The church made the daily calendar also point to Christ by remembering John the Baptist on the day farthest away from Christ’s birth. We are now heading back toward it. Luke makes the times of these pregnancies very clear. The story of redemption is all about human births and deaths.
A strong connection between midsummer and the story of salvation can be made. John and Jesus are born into the world as vey human babies, to be sure after a couple of miracles, but their mothers gave birth to them as they would have any child. They are raised and grow up as any human child. God works through human flesh to get the work done.
The hymn tune for today, an old Swedish folk tune, goes with an old hymn text on summer by Israel Kolmodin, "Den Blomstertid nu kommer.“ It will remind Swedes of their graduation when it almost certainly was sung. The hymn glories in the summer. As is true with many summer songs, the stanzas sung are the first stanzas which celebrate the season; they do not go on to sing those which tell of Jesus Christ. (The hymn tune is part of the soundtrack in the film Elvira Madigan.)
Kolmodin’s last stanzas tell how Jesus is the sun that melts the ice of our hearts and brings forth the flowers in our soul. Like the lily of the valley, the dew of Zion, he refreshes our arid souls so that the rose will bloom in them. The hymn ends with a prayer for the Gospel to be brought to the land with its springtime, both physical and spiritual. But these are rarely sung.
That text, however, has not been well translated into English. The text we have is from Iceland. Valdimar Briem, a gifted and beloved late 19th-early 20th century pastor, wrote a text that fits the Swedish tune and was used in the SBH and the LBW. It may have been a way to include both the Icelandic text and the Swedish tune. Next to Hallgrímur Pétursson, Briem is Iceland’s most beloved and prolific hymn writer. Oddly, it is not in today's Icelandic hymnal.
This hymn reminds one of Psalm 148. It praises Creation and the creator with vivid images. Once again, all of creation is described singing praises to God—and in the noticing that they are singing—the poet makes delicate references to the beauties of nature.
Icelandic hymns often speak of the sweep of the stars over the land and sea. Most of us now live where there is so much light spill we can barely see any stars but the Big Dipper, if that. Out in the country, we can look up and be stunned to see stars we have forgotten are there. Briem takes them for signs of the heavenly hosts and uses their wonder as mere hints of what else is there. “When in these outer chambers such glory gilds the night,/What the transcendent brightness of God’s eternal light!”
I hope you were able to enjoy Midsummer, its fragrance and colors, with family and friends. Remember that for every beauty you see in the garden just now, the clematis, delphiniums, and roses, there are beauties we cannot see, but long for, and believe we will see in God’s eternal light. It is what Jesus was born for: to bring the heavens near. It is like Paul Gerhardt's summer hymn, "Go Forth, My Heart," (See hymn 61) which develops the theme that summer is a foretaste of heaven. Jesus is heaven come down to us. Which is why we celebrate John the Baptist now. He pointed all his life to the one who came from God to bring us eternal summer.
HYMN INFO Valdimar Briem was a gifted young man who grew up in poverty. His parents died when he was young; his uncle raised him and sent him to the seminary in Reykjavik. He served as pastor in Stóri Núpur. In 1909 when Skáholt again became a diocese, he served there as bishop until his death in 1930. He wrote many hymns, 22% of the 600 hymns in the 1888 Icelandic hymnal were his. Today his hymns are sung at all the major church festivals, plus baptisms, confirmations and funerals. Icelandic immigrants to North America cherished his hymns and published them in their magazine and hymnal. Almost 100 of them are included in the Icelandic hymnal today. He published poetry retelling the stories of the Bible, a poetic version of the book of Job, plus another on the psalms. It is a pity we do not have more. (I am indebted to Iceland’s Bishop Emeritus Karl Sigurbjörnsson of Reykjavik for the above information.).
Danish String Quartet
Anders Wiberg Jazz version