Philipp Nicolai, a pastor in Unna, Germany wrote this hymn during an epidemic of Black Plague that was devastating Europe. His parsonage overlooked the graveyard where hundreds of plague victims were being buried — as many as thirty in a single day. It was out of this context that Pastor Nicolai was inspired to write this hymn — a hymn intended to convey the hope of eternal life.
The words of the hymn were altered substantially over the years, but retain their emphasis on Christ and the eternal life that he offers. The first verse honors Christ — referring to him as the Morning Star — the Sovereign — and the Root of Jesse. The second verse celebrates Christ as light shining to brighten our darkness. The third verse celebrates the hope of eternal life:
What joy to know, when life is past,
the Lord we love is first and last,
the end and the beginning!
He will one day, O glorious grace,
transport us to that happy place
beyond all tears and sinning!
NOTE: Before using this hymn story, check to see if these are the words in your hymnal.
— Copyright 2006, Richard Niell Donovan