O Jesus Christ, do not delay! The HYMN OF THE DAY, “The Day is Surely Drawing Near” (508) is loosely based on the ancient sequence Dies irae, dies illa (“Day of Wrath, O Day of Mourning”). The hymn, having come to the attention of Bartholomäus Ringwaldt (1532-1599), Lutheran pastor in Lagenfeld, his attention in Christ’s second coming, the result of his study of Revelation, prompted him to revise the hymn for the 1586 Handbüchlin Geistliche Lieder und Gebetlein with the heading “A hymn about the Day of Judgment, improved by Bartholomäus Ringwaldt.” The hymn became very popular and was sung by congregations and individual Christians amid the horrors of the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). The final stanza in particular became imprinted in the prayerful hearts of many.
To Thee, Lord Jesus, only! Thy precious blood was shed to win Full atonement for our sin! The medieval German antiphon Media vita in morte sumus (“In the midst of life we are in death”) was written by Notker Balbulus (c. 900). The refrain, “Holy and righteous God” originates from the Trisagion (“Thrice holy”) of the Greek liturgy, around 450. Various German versions of this religious poem existed in Martin Luther’s (1483-1546) day. As Luther often did, he took existing hymns and strengthened them. Luther edited stanza 1 and added 2 more of his own. This is one of the most central hymns for the dying, and is the foremost prominent Lutheran funeral hymn. This is especially fitting for the themes of the end of the church year: the end of our life and the end of the world.
The tune is a thirteenth-century plainsong chant edited for Luther’s text by his kantor, Johann Walter (1496-1570).