November 19, 2007

May slumber not befall us?

My friend, Chaplain Jonathan Shaw, noted the last time we sang LSB 514, "The Bridegroom Soon Will Call Us," that there is a significant problem with the first stanza:

The Bridegroom soon will call us,
"Come to the wedding feast."

May slumber not befall us
Nor watchfulness decrease.

May all our lamps be burning
With oil enough and more

That we, with Him returning,

May find an open door.
The problem is in the third line: "May slumber not befall us." Certainly the Scriptures admonish Christians to be watchful and not slumber (e.g., 1 Th. 5.6), as a general call to preparedness (and not to be involved in the "things of the night," such as drunkenness). But the hymn is clearly referencing the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Mt. 25.1-13, the Gospel reading for the Last Sunday of the Church Year), where all sleep - the wise virgins as well as the foolish. "Sleep," then, would be a reference in this parable to death. Slumber is going befall us, unless the Lord returns first.

It would appear to be a bad translation from the German - but it is a problem inherited from our previous service books. The text of stanza 1 in Lutheran Service Book (translated by Janzow) is altered slightly from Lutheran Worship (#176), but not for any good reason I can see. TLH (#67) is perhaps a bit better, but just obscures the problem:
The Bride-groom soon will call us:
Come, all ye wedding-guests!
May not His voice appal
[sic] us
While slumber binds our breasts!
May all our lamps be burning
And oil be found in store
That we, with Him returning,
May open find the door!
The Lutheran Worship: Hymnal Companion gives the German text; lines three and four are: Hilf, Gott, dass wir nicht schlafen, In Su(e)nden schlummern fest. My German is rather rusty, but my rough translation would be "Help, God, that we not sleep, to slumber soundly in sins" (chime in if you can verify or correct). A charitable reading of that text would be that it is a prayer that we not sleep as the foolish virgins, falling asleep in sins; when we die, we want to awake for the Bridegroom in the purity of His righteousness.

I don't look at TLH often anymore, but it has three stanzas not found in LSB or LW. LSB's stanza 4 (the last stanza) is stanza 5 in TLH; stanza 7 becomes the penultimate stanza in LSB - I wonder why that is?

Here are the three in TLH that LW and LSB leave out:
They will not blush to own us
As brothers, sister dear;
Love ever will be shown us
When we with them appear.
We all shall come before HIm
Who for us man became,
As Lord and God adore Him,
And ever bless His name.

Our Father, rich in blessing,
Will give us crowns of gold
And, to His bosom pressing,
Impart a bliss untold,
Will welcome with embraces
Of never-ending love,
And deck us with His graces
In blissful realms above.

In mansions fair and spacious
Will God the feast prepare
And, ever kind and gracious,
Bid us its riches share.
There bliss that knows no measure
From springs of love shall flow,
And never-changing pleasure
His bounty will bestow.
The last two of these seem a bit redundant, so I don't mind their omission, but the first (TLH stanza 3) is good for joining the Church of every age into one. At any rate, I don't think I can sing this hymn anymore as it is in LSB. Feel free to try to talk me out of that, though.


Susan said...

Talk you out of it?
If you're using TLH on that one, I may have to come visit there on the Sunday we sing that hymn.

As much as I like that hymn in TLH, I agree with you that, for the length of the hymn, seven stanzas is a bit long, especially when they do seem a bit redundant. Beautiful verses, but less important to hang onto than all the verses in "Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice" for example.

But that line in the first stanza is most certainly troublesome. It's another example of the subtle shift that has shown up in other areas of LSB -- particularly in the near-elimination of "your sin shall not harm you."

Pictorian said...

Hi. I emailed my SIL who is Lutheran and from Germany. She said "The way he translated it *Help, God.....* is correct".

Christopher Esget said...

Thanks for your comments. I emailed my post to the aforementioned Ch. Shaw, who doesn't read or comment on blogs much (which shows more self-discipline than I have!), and he emailed me these comments:

On the lines:
Hilf, Gott, dass wir nicht schlafen, In Su(e)nden schlummern fest.

I'd translate/paraphrase: Help us, O God, lest we sleep and slumber in our sins . . .

The second German phrase clarifies the first, so that on "sleep," it is not denying that we shall all sleep (die), but rather praying that we might not die in our sins.