Heut schleut er wieder auf die Tr123 Contemporizing the Past

Christmas and Easter hymns treat time in a particularly striking way. In these hymns, the past event of Christ's birth or resurrection is contemporized by an emphasis on "today."

"Uns zum Heil erkoren, ward er heut geboren, heute uns geboren"124 (Elected to be our salvation, he was born today, born to us today)—this message in the refrain of a Christmas hymn from the mid-nineteenth century is echoed in numerous other hymns. Although many Christmas carols were written during the nineteenth century, the programmatic "today" is also found in hymns and carols of other epochs. "Heute geht aus seiner Kammer Gottes Held, der die Welt reißt aus allem Jammer"125 (Today, God's hero, who saves the world from all misery, leaves his chamber) and "[h]eut schleußt er wieder auf die Tür zum schönen Paradeis [«V]"126 (To-

day he reopens the gate to the beautiful Paradise). "Yea, Lord, we greet thee, born this happy morning"127 is sung with great rejoicing in the English rendition of Adeste fideles, laeti, triumphantes, a hymn that was also translated into German and Swedish. The occasion for joy is described in a hymn from the previous century:

. . . Jesus Christ is born today, ox and ass before him bow, and he is in the manger now; Christ is born today, Christ is born today.128

This carol shows that theological conclusions are drawn from the con-temporization of the past—the heavenly door is now open, and the fear of death is no longer necessary.129 But the question of whether the today of the birth has altered time in some basic way remains largely unanswered. Typically, stanzas two and three of this carol switch to the imperfect tense: "Christ was born for this . . . Christ was born to save."

Jochen Klepper treats time in a much more complex manner in his Christmas text from 1938.130 This text also speaks of the today of the birth of Christ. This is evidenced in the "Du Kind" (you, child) in the salutation of the carol, as well as in the statement, "Du . . . liegst im armen Stall" (you . . . lie in a lowly manger). This today of the past birth, however, is different from that of today's Christmas joy, which is experienced when singing the carol. The two "todays" appear to lie on two different levels that are in tension with each other. The joyful reverberations and the joyful light of today's world are contrasted with the poverty and harshness of the manger. The reason for this tension is expressed in an interlocking of times. The death sentence that was still in the future at the time of Jesus's birth does indeed precede the birth of today.

Die Welt ist heut voll Freudenhall.

Du aber liegst im armen Stall.

Dein Urteilsspruch ist längst gefällt, das Kreuz ist dir schon aufgestellt.


Facing the manger is the grave. Within the framework of the "interlocking of time," particularly in the second stanza, the "before" can be understood not only as a location, but also in the sense of time. There is also a parallel interlocking of time between the manger and human sin. Viewed from the time of Christ's birth, the punishment that is a consequence of the sin of future human beings is already now being heaped upon the newly born child in the manger.

. . . gedenken wir auch an dein Leid, das wir zu dieser späten Nacht durch unsre Schuld auf dich gebracht . . .133

Die Welt ist heut an Liedern reich. Dich aber bettet keiner weich und singt dich ein zu lindem Schlaf. Wir häufen auf dich unsre Straf. Kyrieleison.134

Mary and Joseph, as well as the stars, the angels, and the shepherds that populate so many Christmas hymns, have been forced to make room for this double interlocking of time. It seems reasonable that the phrase "zu dieser heilgen Zeit" (at this holy time) of the first stanza is not only the rhyming partner of Leid (suffering), but is also the primary hermeneutic key to the understanding of time in this hymn. The quality of time as holy enables the interlocking of times. The sorrowful tension of this interlocking of time, which is expressed in the Kyrie eleison, is relieved only by the some day of a new simultaneity:

Wenn wir mit dir einst auferstehn und dich von Angesichte sehn, dann erst ist ohne Bitterkeit das Herz uns zum Gesange weit. Hosianna.135

"Jesus Christ is risen today,"136 "[h]eut triumphieret Gottes Sohn, der von dem Tod erstanden schon"137 (today, the Son of God, who is already risen from the dead, is triumphant), "[d]etta är den stora dagen"138 (this is the great day), "[d]enna dag stod Kristus opp"139 (on this day Christ is arisen)—in the Easter hymns, it is not difficult to find formulations for contemporizing the past. Thus, just as one can sing of the today of the birth, the today of the resurrection is also celebrated. If there it was the holy night that brought salvation, then here it is the wonderful day that brings triumph.140 If there one spoke of the opening of paradise, then here, it is "der Höllen Pfort"141 (the gate to Hell) that is destroyed and the heavens that are opened.142 At Christmas and, above all, at Easter, the motif from Ps. 118:24— "This is the day that the Lord has made"143—occurs in numerous hymns.

A few words should also be said regarding the contemporization of the Passion. Its actualization as a past event is classical;144 however, its contem-

porization as a current event, illustrated in the following lines, is a more recent idea:

. . . Today we see your Passion spread open to our gaze; . . .

Wherever love is outraged, wherever hope is killed, where man still wrongs his brother man, your Passion is fulfilled . . .

The groaning of creation . . . these are your cries of pain; . . .145

Even today, Christ is still being crucified:

Even today we crucify still, and drive in the nails of apathy's will. . . .

Living with us, he penetrates pain, our death he defeats and rises again.146

Here, one notices that the presence of the Passion changes the contem-porization of the resurrection. The unique, triumphant resurrection does not occur in the now. What we can experience now is a kind of repeated resurrection, in the penetration of suffering and in the victory over our (!) own deaths.

There are also hymns that create a contemporizing effect by projecting the now into the past of the Passion. Robin Mann does this when he ends his depiction of the arrest and trial with the words: "We were in the crowd that day when our life began again."147 The crucifixion is spoken of in a similar way: "I was the one who nailed your hands when our life began

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