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HYMN FOR EPIPHANY 5 By gentle powers lovingly Surrounded/Von guten Mächten wunderbar geborgen/ Dietrich Bonhoeffer

 Text: Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945).   Tune: Siegfried Fietz (1946-)


The text and music can be found here:

Jesus Healing Peter's Mother-in-Law. Richard Bridges


Jesus doesn’t waste any time after his baptism. We have already seen him liberate a man possessed with an evil spirit. Now he goes with the disciples to Peter’s home and heals Peter’s mother-in-law. Note that he touches her, something strictly forbidden. And she is made well, well enough to get up and resume her normal duties. She is not on the road to recovery; she is completely healed.


Some laugh at the thought of Jesus healing her so he can get supper. Think of it from her point of view, lying there malingering, hating that she cannot do what she would love to do: cook for the visitors and make them feel at home. This healing goes deep so she can do what she feels called to do immediately.

Jesus Healing Peter's Mother-in-law. Rembrandt

 Our faith is not just about life after death. It is about life, plain and simple, now and after our death. It is a heaven for Peter’s mother-in-law to be able to do what she is best able to do, to fulfill her vocation. We all know that kind of bliss—being able to do what we were created to do, what all our gifts, physical, mental and spiritual, made it possible for us to do.


The writer of our text today, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, expresses this faith in the loving gentle powers of Christ against the worst evil imaginable. Bonhoeffer included this hymn in a letter to his mother on New Year’s Eve 1944. Bonhoeffer, the German theologian, returned from America to live in Germany during WWII. He understood his return meant his death. In fact, his most famous statement is the beginning of his book Discipleship:" When Christ calls us to follow him, he calls us to come and die."

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Bonhoeffer's following Christ did cause his death. In an effort to free Germany from the terrible regime of Adolph Hitler he supported an assassination plot against Hitler. He was found out and imprisoned. Some of the guards in the prison came to care for him and helped him communicate with his family and friends. His hymn, “By Gracious Powers,“ or “By gentle powers lovingly surrounded,” came from his last Christmas and New Year. It shows his complete and utter trust in the Lord to bring him through the terrors of his time. The hymn faces the very worst, the “cup so heavy, painful and the most that we can stand” and yet rejoices that God is with us “every night and every morning, and certainly on every future day.”

Bonhoeffer did not think that being released from prison was the only way to life and freedom. He even refused to escape a couple of times for fear of retributions to his family. When it became clear to the Nazis that the Allies were closing in and Bonhoeffer might be freed, they held a trial and the next day, April 9, 1945, he was hanged. As he stepped toward the gallows, he was reported to have said, “This is the end—for me the beginning of life.”

Life is what Jesus is all about, here and in the next world. Bonhoeffer’s hymn rejoices that God continues to be with him and give him strength through the terrible earthly future he faced. He knew that was not the last word. The hymn is joyful, but harrowing, in its recognition of the terrors of his day.



Siegfried Fietz

This hymn is from a letter smuggled out of the prison and published in his posthumous book Letters and Papers from Prison. It captures the terrors of the time. The evil days were hard to bear except for God’s caring for their “frightened souls.” F. Pratt Green, one of England’s most proficient hymn writers, did the translation used in mainline hymnals, but the second one associated with the Fiezt tune, is considered the official translation. It feels better on the tongue. It has over seventy tunes, most of which work, but none has become the favored one. I think the gospel sound of the Fietz tune will take over here as it seems to have in Germany. search on YouTube for many versions.



By gentle powers lovingly Surrounded

Virtual Choir with German beginning with a choir from Silicon Valley Christian Assembly

By Gentle Powers lovingly Surrounded

Jonathan Moses

By gracious powers The Green translation

Organ and text to a tune by Richard Runciman Terry

Richard Schulz Widmar's tune/with music and text of a choral arrangement

NB: Here is the link to my latest book. It would help me a lot if more than 50 were pre-sold by March 15 at a lower price. Thank you!







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