Tuesday, August 08, 2006

A Kid Friendly Hymn

Rebecca has asked about our favorite hymns from childhood and I knew immediately which one to post because I have loved it since I was a very young child. It is my favorite hymn to this day.

A Mighty Fortress is our God
words and music by Martin Luther, 1529

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our Helper, He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great; and armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing.
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing.
Dost ask Who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He,
Lord Sabaoth His name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And though this world with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us.
The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo! his doom is sure;
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly pow’rs, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill; God’s truth abideth still;
His Kingdom is forever.
As a small child this hymn made me feel safe. As a teenager standing in awe at Notre Dame in Paris, I thought of this hymn. I felt so small and God felt so big. He still feels big to me when I sing this song. And I still feel small. And safe.

A Hymn Story

The one hymn that most symbolizes the Protestant Reformation is "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God." In it, Martin Luther proclaims his confidence in God and rallies all Christians to war against evil. Basing his words on Psalm 46, he victoriously states "We will not fear, for God has willed His truth to triumph through us." Those persecuted and martyred for their convictions during the Reformation sang these words.

Luther understood the power of evil: After he posted his ninety-five theses on the door of Wittenberg's Castle in 1517, he faced years of trials and persecution, he was excommunicated from the Roman church, and he continually faced threats against his life and his freedom. Other reformers had been persecuted and burned at the stake.

But he also knew "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in danger" (Psalm 46:1) and so he wrote "A Mighty Fortress is our God," proclaiming boldly that "the prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him . . . one little word shall fell him."

Since he wrote it in 1529, Luther's hymn has been translated into nearly every language. There are said to be over eighty English translations alone to this hymn, but the version most used in the United States is the translation by Frederic Henry Hedge in 1852.

The first line of "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" is inscribed on the tomb of Martin Luther at Wittenberg. And its powerful words and tune continue to live. The hymn was sung at the funeral of President Dwight D. Eisenhower at the National Cathedral in Washington DC, March 1969. And it was also included in the National Service of Prayer and Remembrance, held shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks against America.
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