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July 28, 2020

“It was the duty of the trumpeters and singers to make themselves heard in unison in praise and thanksgiving to the Lord, and when the song was raised, with trumpets and cymbals and other musical instruments, in praise to the Lord, ‘For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever,’ the house, the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud.” 2 Chronicles 5:13

Today the Church remembers Johann Sebastian Bach, who died on this day 270 years ago. Given that the readership of this blog has a higher percentage of Bach experts and aficionados than the general population, I’ll neither include the broad details of his life nor pretend that I have anything new to share.

Instead, a personal reflection:

Each Easter Sunday since I’ve been ordained has begun in the dark, my thoughts and prayers centered by Bach’s “Christ lag in Todes Banden” (BWV 4), an early work that tells the story of Christ’s victory. The length of the cantata was perfect for the drive from my home in Murrells Inlet to the beach at the Litchfield Inn where the people of St. Peter’s would gather for sunrise worship (here, I save the cantata for my office as the Sinfonia has barely ended by the time I get to Grace).

My favorite moment in this cantata filled with wonderful moments comes in Versus 3. The tenor sings of Christ who has come to stand in our place and stare down death. He sings, “Da bleibet nicht” (“there remains nothing”). The “nicht” is matched by the slightest nothingness in the music itself. The tenor and the orchestra pause, waiting with creation itself to see what will emerge from this nothingness. The tenor gently picks up the line: “but death’s form; / he has lost his sting.” Out of nothing, a new creation. Halleluja, indeed!

In the margin of his Bible, next to the passage above from 2 Chronicles, Bach wrote, “Where there is devotional music, there God in His grace is always present.” Today we give thanks for the witness of Bach, along with George Frederick Handel and Heinrich Schütz, also remembered by the Church today. May we, too, make devotional music to the glory of God and in praise of the ever-present, always-victorious Jesus Christ.

While I was very much looking forward to singing with the Grace Choir in this year’s Bachfest in Leipzig, I rejoice that we can make music to God wherever we are. Death’s form is empty; its nothingness is now nothing. Christ is all in all and creation begins anew.

Be well, friends. You are loved.

Lord of life, your Son has conquered sin and death and given us the victory. Let songs of praise ever be upon our lips; may they be pleasing to your ears. Help us to boldly proclaim the gospel as did the saints who came before us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Image: 1746 portrait of Bach by Elias Gottlob Haussmann (public domain).

From → COVID-19

One Comment
  1. Sandy Lentz permalink

    You lived in Murrells Inlet!! My family vacationed several times in Myrtle Beach. A very favorite memory is of the night we went to a fish restaurant in Murrels Inlet, a ramshackle, unpainted “fish shack” owned by a family with a fishing boat, only open when there’d been a good catch. That night, after an amazing dinner, we were regaled by one of the family’s sons, a state trooper, with tales of his experiences in hurricanes. In one case, he sheltered in the basement of a house, smoked a cigarette, and emerged to find everything gone, whole neighborhood swept clean.

    Sent from my iPhone


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