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Christ Lay in Death's Bonds: A Holy Week Meditation with Bach & Luther

March 31, 2021

This Holy Week, we're delighted to share a scholarly and artistic meditation on Christ lag in Todesbanden ("Christ lay in the bonds of death"), a hymn written by Martin Luther and given glorious musical form in a cantata by J.S. Bach.

This video was created and presented by Sven Soderlund, Emeritus Professor of Biblical Studies, and acclaimed organist Edward Norman. Together, they guide us through the words and music of this hymn and point us toward the death and resurrection of Christ.

Christ lay in the bonds of death 
Words by Martin Luther (literal mode translation)

Stanza 1

Christ lay in the bonds of death,
given over for our sins.
He has risen again
and brought us life.
For this we should be joyful,
praise God and be thankful,
and sing, Hallelujah.

Stanza 2

No one could prevail o’er death
among all humanity.
Our sin caused all this,
no innocence was to be found.
Therefore came Death so soon
and seized power over us,
held us captive in his kingdom.

Stanza 3

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, 
has come in our place
and has removed our sins;
thus from Death has taken away
all his rights and power.
Only death’s outward form remains;
he has lost his sting.

Stanza 4

It was a dreadful battle
that Life and Death waged.
Life claimed the victory,
it has Death devoured.
Scripture has proclaimed
how one death swallowed the other;
death has become a mockery.

Stanza 5

Here is the perfect Paschal Lamb
that God has commanded,
who high on the cross’s stem
in burning love is roasted.
His blood marks our door,
that faith holds in front of Death.
The Strangler can no longer harm us.

Stanza 6

So we celebrate the high feast
with joyful heart and gladness
that the Lord lets shine upon us.
He himself is the sun
which through his radiant grace
fully enlightens all our hearts.
The night of sin has vanished. 

Stanza 7

We eat and live well
on the true Paschal bread.
The old sourdough shall not
be present with the word of grace.
Christ shall be our banquet food,
and he alone the soul shall feed.
Faith will live no other way.

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