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HYMN FOR EASTER 7 Built on the Rock the Church Does Stand (Kirken den er et gammelt hus)

Updated: May 7

Text: Nicolai Frederik Severin Grundtvig (1783-1872) Tune: Ludvig Lindemann (1812-1887)


The bombardment of Copenhagen When Grundtvig saw "steeples falling"

1.        Built on the Rock, the church does stand

Even when steeples are falling:

Crumbled have spires in ev’ry land,

Bells still are chiming and calling:

Calling the young and old to rest,

But above all to souls distressed.

Longing for rest everylasting.


2.        Surely in temples made with hands,

God the most High is not dwelling:

High above earth his temple stands,

All earthly temples excelling:

Yet he whom heav’n cannot contain

Chose to abide on earth again,

Building in mortals his temple.


3.        We are God’s house of living stones

Made for his own habitation;

Through his baptismal grace he owns

Us by his wondrous salvation;

Though we were only two or three

He, as he promised us, will be

Here with his grace and his favor.


4.        Now we may gather with our Lord

Here in the lowest of houses.

As Peter said, “Lord, it is good

Being with you on this mountain.”

Jesus his grace to us accords;

Spirit and life are all his words

His truth will hallow our temples.


5.        Still we our earthly temples build

So we may herald his praises;

They are the homes his presence fills

And little children embraces,

Beautiful things in them are said,

God has in them his promise made,

Making us heirs of his kingdom.


6.        Here stands the font before our eyes

Telling how God has received us;

Here we recall Christ’s sacrifice

And what his table does give us;

Here sounds the word that still proclaims

Christ yesterday, today the same,

Always and now our Redeemer.


7.        Grant, then, O God, where’er we live,

That, when the church-bells are ringing.

Many will faith in Christ receive

Where he his message is bringing.

“I know my own, my own know me;

You, not the world, my face shall see.

My peace I leave forever.”


8.        Never forget what God has done,

Making us stones that are living,

Built by the Word, God’s only Son,

Whom we by faith are receiving.

All that the Spirit does will last

Everything else will fade and pass,

Only God’s Word makes us holy!

                  Tr, Carl Døving (1867-1937) Stanza 8 Grindal


Grundtvig’s great hymn says in hymnody what Jesus has been saying all through the Gospel of John, plus words from 1 Peter 2:5. This last stanza, usually omitted, has in it the key to the entire church—it is God’s Word that makes us holy.

Haugeaners by Adolph Tiedeman showing a group gathered to hear the Word

Ever since Eden, God’s project has been to make us holy. Of course, we know that God is holy. It sounds a little much to say that we are holy. But that is the goal of the entire plot—from Creation. Jesus, in his intimate talk with his Father in John 17, says he has come to sanctify us, to make us holy. He makes that clear in the prayer, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.".

My father never read Scripture at the Sunday morning service without ending it with this verse. I have loved the sentence from the first I remember hearing it. The radicality of it strikes me more and more.

The Book of Acts makes it clear that the mission of Jesus and his commission, now that they are the temples of God, is to spread the temple throughout the world. Eden was God’s temple where he walked with Adam and Eve until their disobedience. The entire Old Testament is the story of God’s building a place where he can dwell—the tabernacle, the temple. Then Jesus shocks everybody by saying he will destroy the temple and in three days raise it up. He is the temple, and he makes us his temple where he dwells.

The temple now is us—we are a building of living stones, Grundtvig says, quoting 1 Peter, in his great hymn. The church is not a building—it is the congregation where people gather together to be sanctified by the sharing of the word. They are changed by this sharing and made new. In fact, one cannot be a Christian alone very easily. We need to gather, "two or three" and be filled with God's word which shapes us into holy people. That gives us the fervor to go out to spread the temple—that is Jesus Christ—into the hearts of everyone in the world.

Church buildings from "the lowest of houses" or huge cathedrals, are where the Lord dwells with his people, in the fellowship of believers who come together to be sanctified. That the Lord dwells within us makes us holy; we find our meaning elsewhere from the world, and that is why the world hates us, Jesus says. It cannot abide holiness! That does not matter, we have another place, another home in him, as he does in us.

Grundtvig says all of this in his wonderful hymn. "Never forget what God has done!" Remember that you have been made holy by his word. That is what you crave: to be made holy, not to be better than others, but to be closer to your Lord.


Grundtvig as an old man

This first appeared in Grundtvig’s collection Sang=Værk in 1837. Lindemann’s tune appealed very much to Grundtvig. This is the one hymn from the Dano-Norwegian tradition popular world wide. While the first line is not a literal translation of the Danish—The church is an ancient house—Døving’s version resonates with the other images of God’s living stones. We can also see that Grundtvig is remembering the bombardment of Copenhagen by the British during the Napoleonic wars in which the cathedral in Copenhagen was destroyed.


National Lutheran Choir with Dave Cherwien/a bit long but thrilling!

St. Olaf Choir with F. Melius Christiansen’s famous arrangement

Muica Ficta Bo Holten’s Choir

Danish jazz group

Mons Takle’s version played by Jan Peter Teeuw

Norwegian Choir from Hymns Minute by Minute

Iver Kleive and Knut Reiesrud

Kirsten Flagstad

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