LSB 516, Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying

Chief Hymn for Trinity 27, the Last Sunday of the Church Year, selected as the seasonal hymn for AD 2022 All Saints-tide.  This final cycle of the long Trinity season is named for the November 1 feast which marks its beginning. For the past almost 5 weeks of Michaeltide, we have reflected on endurance in the face of tribulation.  As we close in on the end of the Church Year, we now turn our attention to our certain hope, grounded in the Eschaton (the Last Day) with its promise of eternal life in Jesus for those who believe in Him-crucified for the forgiveness of their sins.  Of note, it is no coincidence that God called Dr. Martin Luther (1483-1546) to nail his 95 Theses to the Wittenberg Castle Church door on All Saints Eve, to begin the Reformation.  By returning His Church to the truths that we are saved by His grace alone, through His gift of faith alone, all revealed to us in Scripture alone, God has assured us, and all of His people, that, indeed, our hope is secure (Ephesians 2:8-9; 2 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 10:19-23).

Author and Composer: The Rev. Dr. Philipp Nicolai (1556-1608), staunch defender of Lutheran orthodoxy against the false teachings of Roman Catholicism and Calvinism, which caused him to temporarily or at times permanently lose Pastoral positions and additionally delayed receipt of his doctorate.  In October 1596, Nicolai accepted a pastoral call to St. Catharine’s Church in Unna, Westphalia. Then, from July 1597 to January 1598, a devastating plague hit the town, killing about 1400 of his parishioners; during the month of July, Nicolai was burying up to 30 people per day. Out of his desire to comfort his congregation with the sure and certain hope of eternal life in the midst of unspeakable terror and loss, Nicolai wrote FrewdenSpiegel deß ewigen Lebens (Mirror of the Joys of Eternal Life), a book of meditations on the last phrase of the Apostles’ Creed, “the life everlasting.”1 The book was formally published in 1599. In it, he appended several hymns which he had written for the members of his congregation to sing and thus help them internalize and remember that, in spite of all that they were suffering, the joy of heaven is theirs even in the here and now. Within five years, two of these hymns, Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern (O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright, LSB 395, which was our AD 2022 Epiphanytide seasonal hymn), and our AD 2022 All Saints-tide seasonal hymn Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying, LSB 516) were included in a church hymnal in Hamburg. The hymns were enthusiastically received, and are now regarded as among the greatest hymns ever written in the Western Church, often referred to as the “Queen and King of the Chorales.” Of note, prior to his arrival in Unna, Nicolai served as court-preacher for the Countess of Waldeck Margarethe von Gleichen (1556-1619) and tutor for her pious and intellectually gifted son Count Wilhelm Ernst (1584-1598).  The young Count died at the age of 14 of the plague on September 16, 1598, and both of these hymns function as acrostic tributes to him.2

Hymn history: Nicolai wrote Wake, Awake as a, “hymn of the voice at midnight and of the wise virgins who go to meet their heavenly bridegroom.”3 He placed the hymn immediately following O Morning Star, “a spiritual wedding hymn of the believing soul concerning Jesus Christ, its heavenly Bridegroom …”4 Based in Matthew 25:1-13, Wake, Awake quickly became assigned to Trinity 27, and in 1731, was incorporated by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) into his cantata for that same Sunday.5  The hymn was also used in places on Trinity 1 (Gospel text: Luke 16:19-31, rich man and Lazarus) and Trinity 2 (Gospel text: Luke 14:15-24, the great banquet).6 Additionally, it is used occasionally on Advent 1. Of note, Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) incorporated a portion of the first stanza into his 1836 oratorio Paulus (Act 1, Scene 2, Conversion of Paul).

The original German hymn consisted of three stanzas, all of which have been received in LSB. Carl Ferdinand Wilhelm Walther (1811-1887) incorporated the hymn into his 1847 German language hymnal (now known as Walther’s Hymnal), the first official hymnal of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (WH 436). The English translation by Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878), first published in 1858,7 was used with some changes (most notably, removing the explicit mention of the Lord’s Supper at the end of the second stanza) in the 1912 Evangelical Lutheran Hymn Book (ELHB 549), and brought forward to the 1941 The Lutheran Hymnal (TLH 609), the 1982 Lutheran Worship (LW 177) and LSB (516).  The LW made a number of changes to the TLH text; the LSB restored much of the text to the TLH; the most notable change in LSB over TLH is the restoration of the mention of the Lord’s Supper at the end of the second stanza that is in Nicolai’s German text, and the Winkworth translation.8 Why do you think that Nicolai put such great emphasis on the Lord’s Supper in Wake, Awake (as he did in O Morning Star)?

Like, O Morning Star, the text, when centered, forms the shape of a chalice:

Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme
Der Wächter sehr hoch auf der Zinne,
Wach auf, du Stadt Jerusalem!
Mitternacht heißt diese Stunde,
Sie rufen uns mit hellem Munde:
Wo seid ihr klugen Jungfrauen?
Wohlauf, der Bräut’gam kömmt,
Steht auf, die Lampen nehmt!
Macht euch bereit
zu der Hochzeit,
Ihr müßet ihm entgegengehn!

Hymn tune: The hymn tune structure parallels that of O Morning Star.  It is composed in AAB “Bar Form,” and each stanza consists of 11 musical phrases (denoted by the bar markings in the hymnal). The first three notes C, E, G, evoke a call to attention, and carry over to the beginning of the second phrase (G, C, G, C, E).  The 7th and 8th phrases are identical, as are the 3rd, 6th and 11th, facilitating congregational singing.9 In composing the tune, Nicolai may have borrowed phrases10 from the hymn In dulci jubilo (LSB 386)

and from Hans Sachs’ (1494-1576) 1513 melody Silberweise11

Hymn text:

First stanza

Read the first stanza

Vocabulary: watchmen – men who patrolled the fields, streets and city walls and towers watching for thieves, danger, invasion (Isaiah 21:6-12); thrilling – causing to have a sudden feeling of piercing excitement; virgin – young pure unmarried woman; Alleluia – you all praise God (imperative)

Read Isaiah 52:7-8; also Psalm 119:148; Matthew 24:42 (Mark 13:32-37), 25:6,13; Luke 12:37-38, 21:34-36; 1 Thessalonians 5:6; Revelation 16:15.  What is the role of the watchmen in this hymn (who is the “invader” here)?  Who is our watchman at CLC?

Read Matthew 25:1-13.  How does Nicolai unpack the Trinity 27 Gospel text in this stanza? What from the text does he leave out?  Why do you think he has left that out (consider the circumstances under which the hymn was written and the audience he is addressing)?  Read 2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:22-32; Revelation 19:7. Who is the Bridegroom? Who is the bride?12

Read Exodus 27:20-21 (Leviticus 24:1-4); 2 Samuel 22:29; 1 Kings 11:36; Psalm 119:105; Proverbs 6:23; Luke 12:35; Revelation 21:23. What is signified by the lamp? Read Luke 10:30, 34-35. From where do we get the oil?  What have we done to earn it?

Read Psalm 106:1. Why the cry of Alleluia/Halleluja?

Second stanza

Read the second stanza

Vocabulary: spring – move or jump suddenly or rapidly upward or forward; gloom – state of depression/despondency; Hosanna – save now/please

In this stanza, Nicolai unpacks/elaborates on Matthew 25:10.

Read Isaiah 51:16, 66:8.  Who is Zion?

Read Psalm 30:11-12, 126:1-6; Isaiah 52:8, 62:5-12, 65:17-19; Revelation 7:17. Why are the watchmen singing?  How does Zion respond?

Read Isaiah 25:6-9; Matthew 22:2-4; Luke 14:15; Revelation 19:6-9.   What does Scripture tell us about the wedding feast of the Church and her Bridegroom? Read Daniel 7:13; Matthew 16:27, 25:31; 1 Thessalonians 4:16; Revelation 1:7.  What does Scripture tell us about Jesus’ final coming?  Read John 1:17. From whom came grace and truth?  Read Numbers 24:17; 2 Peter 1:19; Revelation 2:28, 22:16 (c.f. LSB 395).  With what celestial body does Scripture associate our Messiah?  How does Nicolai unpack all of this in the stanza?

Read Revelation 22:20. How does Zion respond to the certain promise of her Lord’s final coming? 

Read Matthew 21:9 (Mark 11:9-10; Luke 19:38; John 12:13).  Why the cry of, “Hail Hosanna”?  In what setting do we see the cry in Scripture (note that the actual term, “Hosanna” is not present in the Luke text)?  Where do we use the word, “Hosanna” in the Liturgy, and what does that tell us about that which Jesus is doing?

In his original German text, Nicolai ends this stanza as follows: “Wir folgen all zum Freudensaal, und halten mit das Abendmahl” (“We all follow to the hall of joy, and join in keeping the supper”).  Note that the term Abendmahl is the term used specifically in the German church for the Lord’s Supper (and thankfully LSB restored this to the text of the hymn).  Read 1 Corinthians 10:16. Note that the Greek word for, “participation” is koinonia. What occurs vertically when we receive the Lord’s Supper?  What occurs horizontally? Why might we think of the Lord’s Supper as a foretaste of the eternal heavenly banquet?

Note that Nicolai adds mit to Wir, namely “jointly” to “we,” not reflected in the LSB translation. Read Matthew 8:11; Luke 16:23, 23:43; Revelation 7:9, 19:9.  What can we infer about koinonia with our Lord and with each other into eternity?  Why might Nicolai have been intentional with this emphasis? How might this be a source of comfort to us at the death of loved ones?

Third stanza

Read the third stanza

Vocabulary: adore – worship (ad – to; ore – speak/pray); saint – one declared holy; angel – attendant/agent/messenger of God; portal – doorway/gate; immortal – living forever (“not dying”); radiant – sending out light/shining/glowing brightly; eternally – lasting forever

In this stanza, Nicolai further describes that which takes place in the wedding hall.

Read Psalm 95:1-2, 100:1-3, 150; Isaiah 52:9; Revelation 15:3-4 (examples among many texts). How do God’s people use His gift of music in Scripture and here at CLC?  Read Isaiah 6:2-3; Luke 2:14; Revelation 4:8. Name two examples in the Liturgy in which our human voices join in song with those of the angels, archangels and all the company of heaven (as those at St. Catharine’s, Unna, did). 

Read Revelation 21:21. What architectural feature of the New Jerusalem does Nicolai include? Read also Matthew 13:45. Why do you think that Nicolai chose this specific feature? 

Read Revelation 22:1. What fixture in the New Jerusalem does Nicolai include? What is radiating from the throne? Bonus: Read Isaiah 6:1-3; Revelation 7:11. Nicolai’s original German text here reads, “In Your city we are companions of the angels on high around Your throne.” What image does this evoke for you? What would this have meant to the citizens of Unna? How might this impact you as you join in the singing of the Sanctus and Benedictus

Read Isaiah 64:4; 1 Corinthians 2:9-10.  How does Nicolai apply the words of Isaiah and Paul to the Last Day?  Read Revelation 7:9-17.  Nicolai’s German text reads, “No eye has ever sensed, no ear has ever heard such joy.”  How do you describe the joy in the Revelation text?  Have you ever witnessed such joy?  Read Romans 8:18. How would this have been comforting to the people of Unna?  How is it comforting to you? 

Read Isaiah 35:10; Revelation 5:9-10.  For what does our hymn singing prepare us? As an aside: Nicolai’s German text ends, “such joy, of which we are happy, io, io, eternally in dulci jubilo (in sweet rejoicing).”  The “io, io” are shouts of joy so great that they cannot be expressed in words.  Note the reference to the hymn Now Sing We, Now Rejoice (LSB 386), the final two stanzas of which read:

Now through His Son doth shine the Father’s grace divine.

Death was reigning o’er us through sin and vanity

Till He opened for us a bright eternity

May we praise Him there!  May we praise Him there!

Oh, where shall joy be found?  Where but on heavenly ground?

Where the angels singing with all the saints unite,

Sweetest praises bringing in heav’nly joy and light.

Oh, that we were there!  Oh, that we were there!

Perhaps Nicolai was influenced by the text as well as the melody of this hymn as he penned Wake, Awake?

To ponder/for discussion:

  1. What makes Wake, Awake a suitable hymn for Reformation?  For All Saints-tide? For Trinity 27? For Advent 1?
  2. Why did Nicolai put such great emphasis on the Lord’s Supper in both Wake, Awake, and O Morning Star (even to the point of shaping his text like a chalice)? Why, especially during times of great stress (including times of plague), is the Lord’s Supper so important (if a man ordained to the Office of the Holy Ministry is available to rightly administer the Sacrament)?

End Notes:

  1. A new English translation of the book has recently been published: Philipp Nicolai, The Joy of Eternal Life, Matthew Carver, trans. (St. Louis: CPH, 2021)
  2. For more information on Nicolai, see (accessed 6 September, AD 2022)
  3. Nicolai, Joy of Eternal Life, p. 275.
  4. Nicolai, Joy of Eternal Life, p. 271.
  5. Günther Stiller, Johann Sebastian Bach and Liturgical Life in Leipzig (St. Louis: CPH, 1984), p. 247.
  6. Musical Context of Bach Cantatas, Motets & Chorales for 2nd Sunday After Trinity, at (accessed 7 September, AD 2022)
  7. Joseph Herl, “Wake, awake, for night is flying,” in Joseph Herl, Peter C. Reske, Jon D. Vieker, eds. Lutheran Service Book Companion to the Hymns, Volume 1 (St. Louis: CPH, 2019) pp. 471-475.
  8. The Nicolai text reads, “… und halten mit das Abendmahl”; ELHB and TLH, “… and follow to the nuptial hall”; LW, “… We follow to the wedding hall”; LSB: “… to eat the Supper at Thy call.” The 1858 Winkworth translation reads, “… where Thou hast bid us sup with Thee!” See (accessed 8 September, AD 2022).
  9. Herl, “Wake Awake…” p. 474.
  10. Aryeh Oron, Chorale Texts used in Bach’s Vocal Works, Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, Text and Translation of Chorale, at (accessed 8 September, AD 2020)
  11. Sachs was trained as a shoemaker, but took up the vocation of Meistersinger (“master singer”) and became a prolific poet and composer of melodies.  He was born in Nürnberg, and except for a five year stretch from ages 17-21, lived his life there.  From around age 29, he became a supporter of Dr. Luther, and was a champion of the Reformation in his city.  Sachs is one of the leading characters in the Richard Wagner (1813-1883) opera Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. For more on Sachs, see (accessed 11 September, AD 2022).  The score of the Silberweise tune may be found in Robin A. Leaver, The Whole Church Sings, Congregational Singing in Luther’s Wittenberg (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2017) p. 18. Of note, the tune also appears to have influenced Dr. Luther’s hymns Vom Himmel Hoch (From Heaven Above, LSB 358), Ein Feste Burg (A Mighty Fortress, LSB 656/657), and to a lesser extent Jesaja dem Propheten (Isaiah Mighty Seer, LSB 960), notably in the descending melodies and the use of the Ionic mode (similar to the modern major key), see Leaver, Whole Church Sings, p. 63.
  12. Earlier in his book, Nicolai writes, “… this life of paradise is called a wedding feast, at which Christ rejoices with His elect children of light, who have fallen blessedly asleep in the Lord, and to it He has also summoned from this valley of sorrow all who await His coming with believing hearts as if with burning lamps.  For He compares Himself with a bridegroom who knocks at midnight and whom His godly Christians go out to meet like wise virgins with burning lamps and go in with Him to the wedding feast, and He exhorts us to constant readiness and expectation of His coming, saying, ‘Be like those men who wait for their Lord, when He shall emerge from the wedding, so that when He comes and knocks, they open up to Him at once. Blessed are those servants whom the Lord, when He comes, shall find watching.  Truly I say to you, He will gird Himself up and will seat them at the table and go before them and serve them.’” Nicolai, Joy, pp. 208-209; also quoted in the Herl article, Companion, Volume 1, p. 472.

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