March 24, 2020

By Gracious Powers

The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage.
—Psalm 16:5-6

Literally millions of martyrs were created by the Nazis during the Second World War. But one of the best-known in Christian circles was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Protestant pastor. After his arrest and during his confinement in a Gestapo prison in Berlin, he wrote a poem which he sent to his family in late December 1944. It has lived on as a hymn of faith during confinement. It does not deny fear, but nonetheless looks forward to God's full salvation, which is our heritage as people of faith.

Many are experiencing a different kind of confinement and a different kind of fear right now. And yet the text of Bonhoeffer's poem is still meaningful. Here is Fred Pratt Green's translation of Bonhoeffer's Von guten Mächten, as it appears in the UCC's New Century Hymnal (№ 413):

By gracious powers so wonderfully sheltered,
and confidently waiting come what may,
we know that God is with us night and morning,
and never fails to greet us each new day.

Yet is this heart by its old foe tormented,
and evil days bring burdens hard to bear;
O give our frightened souls the sure salvation,
for which, O God, you taught us to prepare.

And when this cup you give is filled to brimming
with bitter sorrow, hard to understand,
we take it thankfully and without trembling
out of so good and so belov'd a hand.

Yet when again in this same world you give us
the joy we had, the brightness of your sun,
we shall remember all the days we lived through
and our whole life shall then be yours alone.

Be with me, O God, through these days of uncertainty. And give me faith that, come what may, I belong to you, and your wholeness is my heritage. I pray this in his Name who taught me to pray: Our Father...

I could not find a recording of the tune used in the United Church of Christ, and the other tune used in English hymnals is horribly lugubrious. So I am posting the tune used in German-speaking churches. The above arrangement is particularly lovely.

Crossposted to Psalm Today

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