Christ Lay in the Bonds of Death

Christ lag in Todesbanden

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. For the church cantata by Bach, see Christ lag in Todes Banden, BWV 4.
"Christ lag in Todes Banden"
Hymn by Martin Luther
"Christ lag ynn todes bande" in Eyn geystlich Gesangk Buchleyn of 1524
English Christ lay in death's bonds
Catalogue Zahn 7012
Occasion Easter
Language German
Melody by Luther and Johann Walter

"Christ lag in Todesbanden" (also "... in Todes Banden"; "Christ lay in death's bonds") is an Easter hymn by Martin Luther. Its melody is by Luther and Johann Walter. Both the text and the melody were based on earlier examples. It was published in 1524 in the Erfurt Enchiridion and in Walter's choral hymnal Eyn geystlich Gesangk Buchleyn. Various composers, including PachelbelBach and Telemann, have used the hymn in their compositions.

Text and melody

In early editions the hymn, in seven stanzas, was indicated as an improved (German: gebessert) version of "Christ ist erstanden".[1] The hymn is in bar form. The Stollen, that is the repeated first part of the melody, sets two lines of text for each repetition, with the remaining four lines of each stanza set to the remainder of the melody.


The hymn celebrates the Resurrection of Jesus, with particular reference to a struggle between Life and Death. The third verse quotes from 1 Corinthians 15, saying that Christ's Atonement for sin has removed the "sting" of Death. The fifth verse compares the sacrifice with that celebrated by Jews in the Pascal Lamb at Passover. The sacrificial "blood" ("Its blood marks our doors") refers to the marking of the doors before the exodus from Egypt. The final stanza recalls the tradition of baking and eating Easter Bread, with the "old leaven" alluding again to the exodus, in contrast to the "Word of Grace", concluding "Christ would ... alone nourish the soul."

Christ lag in Todesbanden,
für unsre Sünd gegeben,
der ist wieder erstanden
und hat uns bracht das Leben.
Des wir sollen fröhlich sein,
Gott loben und dankbar sein
und singen Halleluja.

Den Tod niemand zwingen konnt
bei allen Menschenkindern;
das macht alles unsre Sünd,
kein Unschuld war zu finden.
Davon kam der Tod so bald
und nahm über uns Gewalt,
hielt uns in seim Reich gefangen.

Jesus Christus, Gottes Sohn,
an unser Statt ist kommen
und hat die Sünde abgetan,
damit dem Tod genommen
all sein Recht und sein Gewalt;
da bleibt nichts denn Tods Gestalt,
den Stachel hat er verloren.

Es war ein wunderlich Krieg,
da Tod und Leben 'rungen;
das Leben, behielt den Sieg,
es hat den Tod verschlungen.
Die Schrift hat verkündet das,
wie ein Tod den andern fraß,
ein Spott aus dem Tod ist worden.

Hier ist das rechte Osterlamm,
davon wir sollen leben,
das ist an des Kreuzes Stamm
in heißer Lieb gegeben.
Des Blut zeichnet unsere Tür,
das hält der Glaub dem Tode für,
der Würger kann uns nicht rühren.

So feiern wir das hoh Fest
mit Herzensfreud und Wonne,
das uns der Herre scheinen lässt.
Er ist selber die Sonne,
der durch seiner Gnaden Glanz
erleucht' unsre Herzen ganz;
der Sünden Nacht ist vergangen.

Wir essen und leben wohl,
zum süßen Brot geladen;
der alte Sau'rteig nicht soll
sein bei dem Wort der Gnaden.
Christus will die Kost uns sein
und speisen die Seel allein;
der Glaub will keins andern leben.

Christ lay in Death's dark prison,
It was our sin that bound Him;
This day hath He arisen,
And sheds new life around Him.
Therefore let us joyful be
And praise our God right heartily.
So sing we Hallelujah!

  O'er Death no man could prevail,
If mortal e'er came near him;
Through guilt all our strength would fail,
Our sinful hearts did fear him.
Therefore Death did gain the day,
And lead in triumph us away,
Henceforth to dwell imprisoned.

  Now Jesus Christ, the Son of God,
For our defence hath risen.
Our grievous guilt He hath removed,
And Death hath bound in prison.
All his might Death must forego.
For now he's nought but idle show,
His sting is lost for ever.

  How fierce and dreadful was the strife
When Life with Death contended;
For Death was swallowed up by Life
And all his power was ended.
God of old, the Scriptures show,
Did promise that it should be so.
O Death, where's now thy victory?

  The Paschal Victim here we see,
Whereof God's Word hath spoken;
He hangs upon the cruel tree.
Of saving love the token.
His blood ransoms us from sin,
And Death no more can enter in.
Now Satan cannot harm us.

So keep we all this holy feast.
Where every joy invites us;
Our Sun is rising in the East,
It is our Lord Who lights us.
Through the glory of His grace
Our darkness will to-day give place.
The night of sin is over.

With grateful hearts we all are met
To eat the bread of gladness.
The ancient leaven now forget,
And every thought of sadness.
Christ Himself the feast hath spread,
By Him the hungry soul is fed,
And He alone can feed us.


Comparison of Victimae paschali laudes, "Christ ist erstanden" and "Christ lag in Todesbanden"

The melody as set by Luther (with help from Walter) seems to have strong correlations with parts of the Eucharistic sequence for EasterVictimae paschali laudes,[2] believed to have been written by Wipo of Burgundy in the 11th century. This was transformed, gradually into a "Leise", a devotional German pre-Reformation song with a number of stanzas, but maintaining strong characteristics of plainsong.[3]

Johann Walter published "Christ lag in Todes Banden" with two variants of the hymn tune in 1524: Zahn No. 7012a, the tenth tune in the choral hymnal Eyn geystlich Gesangk Buchleyn, is a setting of the hymn with stanzas of eight lines, the last line of each stanza consisting of the word "Halleluja". The other version, Zahn No. 7012b, appearing under the title "Der Lobsanck Christ ist erstanden / Gebessert" in the Erfurt Enchiridion and as ninth item in Eyn geystlich Gesangk Buchleyn, is a setting of the hymn in seven-line stanzas, that is without the repeated "Halleluja" at the end of every stanza.[4]

Notwithstanding the fact that the version with eight-line stanzas had a rhythmically imperfect form (German"rhythmische Gestaltung ist unvolkommen", according to Johannes Zahn), and that Walter only included the version with seven-line stanzas in his later publications, the former version was picked up in the hymnals of Klug (1535, 1543), Schumann (1539) and Babst (1545), and, with some rhythmical adaptations, henceforth became the standard for publications of the tune. Minor alterations of the tune, that is, without modifying its melodic shape, included the addition of passing notes and modification of rhythmic patterns to conform the chorale to emerging styles, and to fit the chorale into a regular time signature. For instance, in the first half of the 18th century, Johann Sebastian Bach based all his settings of the "Christ lag in Todes Banden" hymn (BWV 4158/4, 277278279625695695a and 718) on the eight-line variant of the hymn tune.[4][5][3][6] The following four-part setting, with the last stanza of the hymn as text, is taken from his Christ lag in Todes Banden chorale cantata:

 << << \new Staff { \clef treble \time 4/4 \partial 4 \key e \minor \set Staff.midiInstrument = 'church organ' \relative c''    \repeat unfold 2 { << {    \set Score.tempoHideNote = ##t \override Score.BarNumber  #'transparent = ##t   b4 | ais b8 cis d4 e | d4 cis b\fermata   b | g a b a8 g | fis e fis4 e\fermata \bar '||' \break } \\    { g4 | fis fis fis fis | fis fis8 e dis4   fis | e d d8 dis e4 | e dis b }    >> }   r4 |    \relative e'   << { e8 fis g4 a e8 fis | g4 a b\fermata   b | e dis e fis8 e | d4 cis b\fermata   cis \break | d b8 cis d4 a | g fis e2\fermata |   b'4 a g2 fis e\fermata \bar'|.' } \\   { b4 e e4. dis8 | e4 d d   g8 a | b4 a b fis | fis fis8 e d4   e | fis d g fis | fis8[ e] e[ dis] e2 |    d8 e fis4~ fis8 dis e4~ | e dis b2 } >> } \new Lyrics \lyricmode { Wir4 es -- sen und2 le4 -- ben wohl in rech -- ten O -- ster -- fla2 -- den,4 Der al -- te Sau -- er -- teig nicht soll sein bei dem Wort der Gna2 -- den,4 ''4 Chris -- tus will die Ko -- ste sein Und spei2 -- sen4 die Seel al -- lein, Der Glaub will keins an -- dern le -- ben.2 Hal -- le -- lu -- ja! } \new Staff { \clef bass \key e \minor \set Staff.midiInstrument = 'church organ' \relative c'   \repeat unfold 2 { << { e8 d | cis4 d8 ais b4 cis | b ais fis   b | b8[ c] b[ a] g[ a] b4 | c fis,8 a g4 } \\    { e4 | fis8[ e] d[ cis] b4 ais | b fis b     dis | e fis g8 fis e4 | a,8 b16 c b4 e, }    >> }   r4 |   \relative e   << { g8 a b4 a8 b c4 | b a g   d' | g fis e8 d cis4 | b ais fis   g | a g g d'8 c | b4 a g2 |   g4 fis8 b b4 c4~ | c b8 a gis 2 } \\   { e4. d8 c b a4 | e' fis g    g8 fis | e4 fis gis ais | b fis b,    e | d g b,8 c d4 | e b c2 |   g'4 dis e c | a b e,2 } >> } >> >> \layout { indent = #0 } \midi { \tempo 4 = 80 } \


In 1524 "Christ lag in Todesbanden" was published in the Erfurt Enchiridion and in Walter's choral hymnal Eyn geystlich Gesangk Buchleyn. The 1524 Erfurt Enchiridion presented the melody and text of Luther's hymn on two pages:

In 1545 the hymn appeared as No. 8 in the Babstsche Gesangbuch. In the German-language Protestant hymnal Evangelisches Gesangbuch (EG) it appears in modernised language as EG 101.[7] It also appears in various translations in English hymnals, the most common one being "Christ Jesus Lay in Death's Strong Bands" by Richard Massie.[8]


Christ Lay in the Bonds Of Death (Hymn By Martin Luther)

Martin Luther, 1483–1546, portrait by Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1533

Author: Martin Luther
Source: Eyn Enchiridion oder Handbüchlein, Erfurt, 1524

Luther’s hymn “Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands (Christ lag in Todesbanden)” is his reworking and expansion of the earlier “Christ Is Arisen (Christ ist erstanden),” which was one of his favorite hymns. It first appeared in the Erfurt Enchiridion of 1524. From there it worked its way into virtually all subsequent Lutheran hymnals.

The first page of “Christ lag in Todesbanden” as it originally appeared in the Erfurt Enchiridion, 1524.

Luther’s original follows a rather more complex metrical form than the English version would suggest. The English is a straightforward 8.7. 8.7. 7.8. 7.4., whereas Luther’s German has seven syllables in each line leading up to the final Alleluia. That means that a slur is included in the first line of the A section that is not present in the English version, and for the meter to be maintained, the slur must move to a different syllable from stanza to stanza.

The translation, which is in the public domain, is that by Richard Massie, 1854, as altered for the Lutheran Service Book, 2006, No. 458, though some phrases have been restored from the Evangelical Lutheran Hymn-Book, 1927, No. 224, as better reflecting the German original.

 Bach: Organ Concerto in A Minor by Vivaldi

Matthias Havinga plays J.S.Bach Fugue in A-minor BWV 543 

Virgil Fox. Now Thank We All Our God | | Johann Sebastian Bach: Magnificat in D major, BWV 243 | Pachelbel Canon in D

James Cohen and the Boston Camarata -Jesus is the Light of the Way

Sleepers Awake! 

“Awake, you who sleep,
Arise from the dead,
And Christ will give you light.”
(Ephesians 5:14)

Organ performance by Matthias Havinga

What I have noticed in my own life is the ease with which I can end up reading cheap literature, watching ho-hum television or listening to low-grade music. On the other hand, I am invariably inspired and edified when I choose to listen to someone like Johann Sebastian Bach. He wrote everything to the glory of God (Sole Deo Gloria)--and this can not be hidden. 

I enjoy listening to the collected organ works of Bach played by the great French organist Marie Claire Alain. I was amazed this week to learn something new from her notes on BWV 552, the great Fugue in E flat major. Listen to this Fugue in mp3 format (

Ms. Alain says,

"Written for organo pleno, this marvel of religious architecture brings the collection to a close. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the fugue comprises three sections devoted to the three Persons of the Trinity. The key-signature is E flat, i.e., three flats. And the time-signatures progress from compound time (2/4) to 6/4 and thence to 12/8. The main theme itself (B flat + G + C + B flat + E flat + D) represents Bach's signature. (In German notation, the opening notes of the theme are written B + G + C + B + ES + D = 2 + 7 + 3 + 2 + 18 + 4 = 41 = J. S. Bach).

The opening panel of the triptych, describing the majesty of God the Father, is 36 bars long: 3 + 6 = 9 = 3 x 3 = Exaltation of the Trinity. There are 12 entries of the subject A, representing the Twelve Apostles and hence the Church. In the second panel, which describes Christ's humanity, there are 21 entries of subject B (21 = the number of chorales in the collection, in addition to being a multiple of 3). Subject A is superimposed on it 6 times (6 = 3 x 2, symbolizing completion, as in the six days of the Creation). This second section comprises 45 bars (45 = 4 + 5 = 9).

The third panel describes the motivity of the Holy Ghost in a sacred dance. Like the opening section, it is 36 bars long. Subject C enters 21 times, while subject A enters 9 times. The main theme therefore appears 27 times in the course of the fugue, which is the same number as that of pieces contained in the collection as a whole.

It is an astonishing edifice, a prodigious achievement on the part of a composer familiar with subtlety of musical style, from counterpoint to numerology. But, more than that, it offers a fascinating glimpse of Bach in a moment of deep exultation. Often sad and racked by suffering, he stands here bathed in heavenly light as he turns his thoughts from meditation(Fugue I) to active endeavor (Fugue II) and, finally, to transcendent joy (Fugue III)." (The collection is by Erato Records)

For many years I have been hoping some Christian musician would undertake to teach the rest of us a class on the great hymns of the faith. The composer, the setting, the words and the music of many hymns are a great, inspiring part of the heritage of the church of Jesus Christ. In our day these great old hymns are all but forgotten. This is surely yet one more serious disconnect on our part, from the historical past of our Christian faith. The community we are actually connected to is not merely one generation deep, but has been under development for two millennia. God is not the God of the dead but of the living. We are connected to the saints of all the ages with whom we will soon be gathered. I hope we can live up to the standards many of our predecessors considered everyday holy Christian living.

Come, Sweet Death

One of my all-time favorite compositions is "Komm, süßer Tod, komm selge Ruh(Come, sweet death, come, blessed rest

On top of the 69 sacred pieces, each one featuring a melody and a figured bass, the hymnal known as the Schmelli Gesangbuch also includes almost 900 other hymns. But it's Bach's mournful music for solo voice and basso continuo, Komm, süßer Tod, komm selige Ruh, which steals the show. 

Unlike many of the arrangements and newly harmonised chorales, this five-verse song is thought to have been written from scratch for the songbook. Bach used lyrics by an unknown poet, written around 1724, asking death to come quickly and peacefully to deliver the singer to heaven, where he can see the face of Jesus. 

Komm, süßer Tod, first edition 1736 

Komm, süßer Tod, komm selge Ruh 

"Komm, süßer Tod, komm selge Ruh" (Come, sweet death, come, blessed rest) is a song for solo voice and basso continuo from the 69 Sacred Songs and Arias that Johann Sebastian Bach contributed to Musicalisches Gesangbuchby Georg Christian Schemelli (BWV 478), edited by Schemelli in 1736. 

The text is by an anonymous author. Bach, by means of melody and harmony, expresses the desire for death and heaven. It is among his most popular works and has been adapted and transformed by several composers, such as Max RegerLeopold StokowskiKnut Nystedt, and for the Wanamaker Organ, by Virgil Fox
( Wikipedia

My all-time favorite performance is by Virgil Fox. Please listen!

Virgil Fox, Wanamaker Organ  

Orchestral Version by Stokowski  
Vilnius Bel Canto Chorus 
Peter van de Velde, organ

Other favorites

Now Thank We All our God  
Wachet Auf, Matthias Havinga, organ    
Rachmaninov: The Isle of the Dead

"Come Sweet Rest" -- A Meditation

Lambert's Music Library

Old Time String Band - I Bid You Goodnight

Instrumental Organ Music

James Alan Shelton - Song for Greta

Gigantic Legless Cauldrons - Sodium Chloride,

James Cohen and the Boston Camarata -Jesus is the Light of the Way

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January 20, 2023.