Easy! Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands!
Why? Sure it’s an Easter hymn and we have all these super awesome Reformation hymns running through our minds this time of year. But Luther’s Easter hymn encapsulates all that the Reformation was about – Christ Alone!
Stanza 1 kind of summarizes the whole hymn to protect from those who think 7 stanza hymns are too long to sing. People always sing the first stanza at least.
Christ Jesus lay in death’s strong bands
â€¨For our offenses given;
But now at God’s right hand He stands
And brings us life from heaven.
Therefore let us joyful be
And sing to God right thankfully
Loud songs of alleluia! Alleluia!
Luther expounds on this in the following stanzas by painting these extreme pictures with his words. He describes the utter hopelessness of the law, sin and death. “Such ruin sin had wrought us.” “…Death had brought us into bondage from of old and ever grew more strong and bold” You can hear the hopelessness in Bach’s Cantata setting of stanza 2. It sounds like weeping, it sounds as if there is no hope or salvation. Like they can barely find the strength in their voices to sing the words.
Then Luther comes right back in stanza 3 with the extreme hope found in Christ Jesus, God’s own Son. He wins the war, delivers those hopeless people in the last stanza and takes the crown! Death no longer reigns, it’s sting is lost! In Bach’s Cantata you hear the strength of victory here.
How did this come to be? Well, the best stanza in all of Lutheran hymnody tells us! I find myself thinking about this stanza all throughout the year:
It was a strange and dreadful strive
When life and death contended;
The victory remained with life,
The reign of death was ended.
Holy Scripture plainly saith
That death is swallowed up by death,
Its sting is lost for ever. Alleluia!
It’s beautiful! It’s hopeful! Death has been swallowed up by Christ’s death! Death has become a joke! Something to laugh at! Life has the victory. All of this found in Scripture alone! (1 Cor. 15).
The final 3 stanzas talk about how this victory over death is delivered to us. The blood shed in the battle fought on the “accursed tree” marks us as ones who are saved, protected, and victorious. We bask in the sunlight of Christ Himself. No longer can the dark night of sin come after us. It’s over. Done!
We now live in the Easter Day! Christ feeds us with Himself. A meal sustaining us in His victory over death, keeping us in the faith and imparting to us eternal life.
So what makes this my favorite hymn? The uber dare to be Lutheran-ness of the Solas, the Law, the Gospel and the Sacraments.