This hymn, with text and tune by Martin Luther (1483-1546), was written as a Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy) for a German setting of the Mass. The text is based primarily on Isaiah 6:1-4, Isaiah’s vision of heaven:
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.
Luther’s hymn retells the Scripture reading quite closely and can easily be divided into 3 sections. The first sets the scene, the second is the song of the angels, and the third wraps everything up.
Isaiah, mighty seer in days of old, The Lord of all in spirit did behold High on a lofty throne, in splendor bright, With robes that filled the temple courts with light. Above the throne were flaming seraphim; Six wings had they, these messengers of Him. With two they veiled their faces as was right, With two they humbly hid their feet from sight, And with the other two aloft they soared; One to the other called and praised the Lord:
This first section paints a vivid picture of Isaiah’s vision of Heaven. He sees flaming angels with six wings, and the Lord Himself, seated on His throne. What a wondrous sight! And then the angels sing:
Holy is God, the Lord of Sabaoth! Holy is God, the Lord of Sabaoth! Holy is God, the Lord of Sabaoth! His glory fills the heavens and the earth!
I have always wondered just what it must be like to hear angels sing. We won’t know in full until we are with our Lord, but it must be glorious! It is fitting that we sing this same song as we are about to receive our Lord’s Body and Blood for the forgiveness of our sins, as that is the moment when Heaven opens and we receive a foretaste of the great wedding feast of the Lamb which will have no end. What joy awaits us!
The beams and lintels trembled at the cry, And clouds of smoke enwrapped the throne on high.
According to Isaiah, it seems like the song of the angels is not a quiet one if it shakes the heavenly throneroom and then there is also smoke encircling the throne. Sounds like strong organ music and lots of incense to me, but then again, I may be biased. With the whole Church we look forward to that great and glorious day when we too wil join the song of the angels in singing praise to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and gives us His Body and Blood to eat and to drink. Amen, come soon Lord Jesus!