Updated: Jun 4, 2020
Danish: Hellig, Hellig, Hellig
Norwegian: Hellig, Hellig, Hellig
Swedish: Helig, Helig, Helig
Isaiah 6:3: Revelation 4:1-11
Text: Reginald Heber (1783-1826) Tune: John Bacchus Dykes (1823-1876)
1. Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty! Early in the morning Our song shall rise to Thee;
Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty! God in Three Persons, Blessed Trinity!
2. Holy, holy, holy!
All the saints adore thee!
Casting down their golden crowns
Around the glassy sea; Cherubim and seraphim Falling down before thee. Which wert, and art, and Evermore shall be!
3. Holy, Holy, Holy!
Though the darkness hide thee! Though the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see; Only thou art holy; There is none beside Thee, Perfect in power,
In love and purity.
4. Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty! All thy works shall praise thy name In earth and sky and sea.
Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty! God in Three Persons, Blessed Trinity! MEDITATION
“Howy, howy, howy,” is how a young great niece of mine sang it when she was still working on her l sounds. She loved it. Mercifuw and Mighty. To hear her sing it was to see how children learn to love songs and words long before they may fully understand them. It stretches their minds to do so. What better way to increase their vocabulary, the educator in me asks. Clearly she loved the words and the music. And still does.
This probably was the most well-known hymn in the world and still may be. This Trinity Sunday, services celebrating the Trinity, the last Sunday of the festival part of the church year, will surely feature this hymn, whether virtually or with people actually in church.
For many who grew up in the forties and fifties, a church service without it was impossible to imagine. Choirs would process into the sanctuary singing it, leading the congregation in a hymn they all knew by heart. The three holies appear in Bible passages suggested for this meditation, going back to Isaiah’s vision in Isaiah 6. He sees seraphim around the throne of God.
The cherubim, if you remember, came to keep Adam and Eve out of Paradise with their flaming sword. They continue to appear through the Bible. Ezekiel calls them the four living creatures, and Revelation uses that notion as well. They came to be the symbols for the Gospel writers: Matthew, the winged man, Mark, the Ox, Luke, the Bull, John, the Eagle. These images appear on the stained glass windows on the east side of Mindekirken and on the painting in the fellowship hall as emblems of the Gospel writers
The seraphim are six-winged eagle-like creatures, the highest order of angels, who protect God on the throne. Rather terrifying, but grand.
When I hear this Scripture, which is the source of many, many hymns, I remember the day John Kennedy was killed, Friday, November 22, 1963. I was a junior in college. We heard the news just after noon—this was before cell phones and iPads—and instinctively gathered in Si Melby Hall, on the Augsburg Campus: over a thousand appeared within a quarter hour.
A professor stood up and began reading Isaiah 6, “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple...And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts; The whole earth is full of his glory!.” His sermon, for which he had had five minutes to prepare, meditated on the death of a ruler, and the glory of the Lord. I remember the Scripture, not the sermon.
That weekend, I worked at Ebenezer and watched television in the rooms as I was helping our patients. I saw the shooting of Oswald on Sunday while I was working. An awful time. Years later I learned that most pastors preached on the Isaiah text the Sunday after the assassination. For centuries it had been the recommended text after the death of a leader. It fits. It is part of the wisdom of the church to preach that no matter what, the Lord is in his holy temple, perfect and holy, beyond what we can fathom, but one day will apprehend fully. A comfort--when things seem bleak and unsettled like these days--to remember the glory of the Lord high above us even on our most dreadful days.
Reginald Heber, a gifted child, showed his poetic talents at an early age, translating Latin poetry into English at the age of seven. He attended Brasenose college at Oxford, becoming a parish priest with his father in Hodnet. He continue his literary career with the best of the English literary community at the time. He served for seventeen years in Hodnet, but had developed an interest in India. In 1823 he was appointed Bishop of Calcutta. He took his calling with great vigor, traveling through the diocese of Calcutta, hither and yon. He
ordained the first native Indian priest, Christian David. On his visitations, he traveled through Bengal, Bombay and Ceylon. During that time, in Dehli, he became ill with a fever. After confirming forty-two natives into the Christian faith in Trichinopoly on April 3, 1826, he took a cold bath as he had done before and died, probably of exhaustion.
Heber was the first major English hymn writer to write hymns outside of the psalter, focusing on hymns for the church year and other themes, like "From Greenland's Icy Mountains." This text, with its tune by John Bacchus Dykes, named Nicea after the place where the Nicene Creed was written in 325, shows the interest in the early church that would mark the movement that was stirring in England toward what became the Oxford Movement. Dykes became the composer for the movement as it developed and helped with the great English hymnal, Hymns: Ancient and Modern, 1861. His tunes are the backbone of the texts by writers from this time.
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra
Oslo Gospel Choir/ Salmeskatt
Danish Christian pop singer Signe Walsøe
Swedish meeting of a Pentecostal type group, Oasmöte/the first part