A Mighty Fortress

Saturday, September 15th, 2001
Flag at half mast

When I was younger, I remember thinking of the Pentagon as a somewhat mysterious military facility, protected by the best defense systems our armed forces had to offer. I had heard that no aircraft was permitted to fly over the Pentagon, and I was sure that any hostile aircraft that attempted to do so would surely be shot down before it had a chance to attack, if that was deemed necessary. And who knew what lie underground?

The Pentagon now has a large hole in its side, after a large plane loaded with innocent people and a full tank of fuel crashed into the southwest wall. People working inside had absolutely no advance warning, and nearly two hundred were killed in the crash and resulting fire, with many more injured - not to mention everyone aboard the plane.

I watched on television as someone from the defense department made the comment that “the Pentagon is not a fortress.” It's really just a large office building. My childhood notions of its security were obviously off base. The section that was hit had just been renovated and reinforced, and the building as a whole withstood the attack fairly well, but I'm sure that's not much comfort to the families of those killed inside.

A few days later, President Bush and other present and former leaders of our nation attended a televised church service at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. One of the hymns they sang was “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” Coincidentally, I had begun arranging this piece for handbell choir just the previous weekend (mostly just to see if I could do it; I've never written for handbells before). I couldn't help but be reminded of my misplaced childhood trust in the defense capabilities of the Pentagon, and be thankful that even in this time of need, we have someone much more reliable to put our faith and trust in.

A Mighty Fortress Is Our God

These words were written by Martin Luther in the early 1500s, and translated from German by Frederick H. Hedge over three centuries later. Contrary to popular belief, Luther also wrote the melody.

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing; our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing. For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe; his craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate, on earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing, were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God's own choosing. Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He; Lord Sabaoth His name, from age to age the same, and He must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us, we will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us. The prince of darkness grim - we tremble not for him; his rage we can endure, for lo! his doom is sure, one little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers - no thanks to them - abideth; the Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him who with us sideth. Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also; the body they may kill: God's truth abideth still, His Kingdom is forever. Amen.