By ED MADSEN
At two o’clock one happy morning in 1961 while preparing to a leave a wedding reception in Denmark, everyone around me joined hands while singing, “Altid frejdig når du går.” With words I did not understand at the time, the melody, penned in 1837 by C. E. F. Weyse, flowed serenely. The beloved benediction, which frequents Danish confirmations, weddings and funerals, encourages brave reliance on God, especially in life’s darkest hours. It is also sung at May 5th Liberation Day gatherings in Ryvangen Memorial Park on the outskirts of Copenhagen, where Freedom Fighters faced Nazi firing squads during World War II. In essence, this hymn is Denmark’s “Nearer My God, To Thee.”
Although “Altid frejdig når du går” can be translated: “Always joyful when you go,” English translations miss the “joyful” part. One renders it: “On your way! Be brave and true…” In a 1927 Danish Lutheran hymnal, it begins: “Fearless when our path below, Pleases God, our father…,” concluding with somewhat vague, fatalistic, derring-do: “Strive for all thou holdest dear, Die if so God meant it; Thus we live without a fear, Thus we die contented.” Is it any wonder Americans don’t sing this much anymore?
To lift up the hymn, while sensitive to cultural overtones, here is a new translation. Lyrics are shaped by: 1 Peter 1:6 (Rejoice even in distress), Psalm 23 (Shadow of death), Proverbs 3:5-6 (Trust in the Lord), Deuteronomy 31:6 (Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid…for the Lord your God goes with you), Acts 1:8 (You shall receive power), Psalm 1 (Delight in the law of the Lord), Deuteronomy 6:5 (Love the Lord…with all your might), and 1 Corinthians 15:57 (Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ).
In the comfort of our New Jersey home, via Zoom, my wife and I attended my Danish-born brother's burial in Illinois this morning [Jan. 17]. He died last week in Peoria at age 93, after trying to claw back from a heart attack and stroke two years ago. God has now mercifully allowed him to join the Saints who from their labor rest.
Among the half dozen folks physically in attendance, one brought along “Joyful Always As You Go,” which I sent to him a year or so ago. Recalling that the beloved sending song frequents confirmations, weddings and funerals in Denmark, he read all three verses. Along with the benediction, that was a nice way to conclude the service.
"Joyful Always As You Go" Lyrics
1. Joyful always as you go,
Trusting the Lord to be your guide.
Even where the shadows grow,
You'll be held securely at God's side.
2. Like the stars that shine at night,
Glistening in the sky above,
Be a bearer of Christ's light,
Brightening this world with Jesus' love.
3. Let God's Word be your delight,
Lifting you up 'til life is done.
Serve the Lord with all your might,
Knowing that in Christ, the victory's won.
Bridget Lois Jensen