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A Devotional Meditation for Bach’s St. John Passion.

April 10, 2017

As we entered into Holy Week this year, we were blessed to host a presentation of Johann Sebastian Bach’s St. John Passion. The Bach Cantata Vespers Chorus & Orchestra and Chicago Choral Artists, under the direction of Pastor Michael D. Costello, Grace Cantor, presented a concert that was both faithful and majestic. The following devotional was offered between the two halves of the work.

What a magnificent gift to be here today, listening to these remarkable musicians present Johann Sebastian Bach’s St. John Passion under the direction of Pastor Costello. In Bach’s day, at this point in the Passion, the preacher would stand up to deliver a sermon. For an hour. Fear not! Such is not your fate. Already in this first half, we have been lifted musically heavenward by Bach’s musical genius. Bach, after all, did not write music simply for our ears, but for our hearts and for our souls. The Fifth Evangelist was not only a towering genius as a composer but also, well, as an evangelist – a proclaimer of the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. First presented in Leipzig on Good Friday, 293 years ago, the score and libretto of the St. John Passion draw us deeply into the mysterious work of God in Christ. The opening chorus makes the point as Bach sets the scene: “Show us through your passion, that you, the true Son of God, at all times, even in the greatest depths, have been glorified.” Even in the greatest depths, indeed.

As we have listened so far, Bach has moved us deeply into the story of Jesus of Nazareth. We find ourselves not so much entertained as convicted. We, like Peter, have denied our God. We have done evil; we have failed to repent. And when shown this truth about ourselves, we can only do what Peter did. We weep bitterly, for this betrayal, this suffering, this death – this passion of the Son of God is of our own making. It is our sin, as numerous as the grains of sand by the sea, that has provoked for Jesus the sad host of tortures that he endured.

Jesus, however, does not simply suffer and die. He does not only endure. He does this, all of this, for our sake. From the Kidron Valley to the courtyard of the high priest; from Pilate’s headquarters to the crowds clamoring for the release of Barabbas; from the flogging and mockery to the Place of the Skull, where upon the tree of Golgotha Jesus gives up his spirit; from the beginning to the end Jesus does this for you, and for me.

In the face of this world’s hypocrisy and its hunger for power, in the wake of our own betrayals and denials, Jesus enters all the way down into sin, suffering, and death. Why? For you; that you, apart from any merit and in spite of any sin, would be saved, born anew from above, and given the priceless gift of forgiveness – and with it life, both abundant and eternal.

As we enter into this most holy of weeks, may this gift of Bach’s music and the very Word of God that it communicates move you to see Jesus as together we look upon the one whom they, we, have pierced. Bach begins where John the Evangelist began, with soldiers and police looking for the One named Jesus of Nazareth. May we also look for Jesus, but for altogether different reasons. May we gaze upon his passion and death and behold the love of the God who would go this far, into the depths of sin and death, for your sake. Listen now, and look upon Jesus as he gazes upon you with only love and grace in his eyes. Listen now; look upon Jesus in his glory, and live.

Let us pray: Merciful God, your Son was lifted up on the cross to draw all people to himself. Grant that we who have been born out of his wounded side may at all times find mercy in him, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (Prayer from Evangelical Lutheran Worship, p. 31.)

From → Lent/Easter

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