A MIGHTY FORTRESS IS OUR GOD by Jason Jaspersen
A MIGHTY FORTRESS IS OUR GOD. Illustrated by Jason Jaspersen. Sioux Falls: Kloria, 2017. 28 pages. Hardcover. $14.95.
Kloria Publishing has done it again. Teaming up with a gifted artist, they have created a spectacular visual narrative of another beloved hymn. This time, the hymn is Luther’s famous “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” and the artist is Jason Jaspersen.
My ability to describe types of artwork is severely limited. I’m not an artist and I don’t know the right terminology, but I will try my best. The coloring of the images in this book remind me of old sepia tone photographs. The images aren’t black and white, but they aren’t vibrantly colored either. The colors aren’t clearly delineated like a stained-glass window. The most vivid colors are found in a rainbow halo that is found on every image. The rainbow halo (which is noticeable without being obnoxious or distracting) always encircles the image on each page that represents the source of our hope as sinners. For example, it is sometimes found around the church, or more frequently, around the Christ-figure of each page.
Jaspersen’s artwork in this book conveys an attitude of serious spiritual warfare. There is nothing cartoony about the book. The “old evil foe” is depicted as a dragon, and his enemy forces are well-equipped with threatening looking spears, swords, and halberds. When the details of individual enemy forces are discernible, they are enwrapped in sinister spiked armor. And when danger looms—it really looms.
As in the book God’s Own Child I Gladly Say It, the pictures match up well with the text. The stanza, “Ask ye, Who is this? | Jesus Christ it is | Of Sabaoth Lord | And there’s none other God| He holds the field forever” is accompanied by an image of the crucified Christ surrounded by his angelic hosts. The phrase “Sabaoth Lord” means, “Lord of hosts.” Thus, the presences of an angelic army makes sense.
The stanza “Though devils all the world should fill | All eager to devours us. | We tremble not, we fear no ill, | they shall not overpow’r us” is accompanied with an image that has strong Psalm 23 overtones. A shepherd is leading a host of people through what could accurately be described as “the valley of the shadow of death.” Both this stanza and Psalm 23:4 echo the idea of not fearing evil. It’s marvelously done.
When my wife first looked at this book she said, “It’s kind of dark for a children’s book.” She didn’t say that as a criticism. It was an honest observation. She’s right, but it’s not too dark. It does, after all, proclaim Christ front and center. Furthermore, the “darkness” of the book is entirely appropriate for the hymn. Our faith is not a game or an exercise in playfulness. It’s serious stuff. Luther’s Small Catechism states, after the ‘Christian Questions with Their Answers,’ “These questions and answers are no child’s play, but are drawn with great earnestness of purpose . . . for both young and old. Let each one pay attention and consider it a serious matter; for St. Paul writes to the Galatians in chapter six: ‘Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked.’”
As the catechism warns, so this book heeds. A Mighty Fortress Is Our God edifies the hymn and the gospel. It doesn’t detract from Christ and his work by gimmicks and a failure to appreciate the seriousness of the subject matter.
Luther’s hymn “Ein Feste Burg” (A Mighty Fortress) has numerous English translations. The English translation found in this book is the same translation that is found in The Lutheran Hymnal #262, and Lutheran Service Book #656.
Near the end of the book the hymn appears as you might expect to find it in a hymnal; that is, it is set under a musical staff. The only difference between this presentation of the hymn and what you find in a hymnal is that this presentation of the hymn only supplies the melody line.
The book concludes with a delightful picture of a toddler folding his hands while sitting on a parent’s lap who is embracing the child with folded hands in prayer. The opposite page includes the musical notation and text of “God’s Word Is Our Great Heritage” by the Danish Lutheran pastor Nikolai Fredrik Severin Grundtvig, who is more popularly known for his hymn “Built On the Rock.”
I am very glad that Kloria Publishing has taken up this work of setting hymns to artwork in this way. If you are a godparent of a child, these are the kinds of books you want to be familiar with and stock up on. They make great baptismal, birthday, and Christmas gifts. Support Kloria Publishing with your patronage (this particular volume can be purchased from Amazon or Concordia Publishing House). It would be good for the entire church if they were profitable enough to produce an entire library of hymns set to artwork like this.
Rev. Timothy A. Koch, Pastor of Concordia and Immanuel Lutheran Churches in Cresbard and Wecota, South Dakota.