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Today we hear from Bach’s cantata Du sollst Gott, deinen Herren, lieben (Thou shalt love God, thy Lord) , which Simon Crouch calls “a most beautiful and profound and yet, at the same time, intimate work” about loving God and one’s neighbor. Using chorales from Martin Luther, the cantata seeks to embody the message of the Gospel for the day in Bach’s time: the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Here is the opening chorus, of which Craig Smith asserts: “the opening chorus is conceptually one of the most brilliant things the composer ever achieved.”
You shall love God, your Lord,
with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your strength
and with all your mind,
and your neighbor as yourself.
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The soprano sings an aria in the midst of the piece, proclaiming her devotion to God and asking God to fill her heart even more with divine love.
My God, I love You from my heart,
my entire life depends on You.
Let me only understand Your commandments
and be enflamed with such love,
that I will be able to love You forever.
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The cantata ends with a simple setting of the Luther Chorale “Ach Gott vom Himmel sieh darein,” with a supplication to God for faith that expresses itself in genuine love.
Lord, dwell in me through faith,
let it become always stronger,
so that it might be fruitful for ever and ever
and rich in good works;
so that it be active through love,
practised in joy and patience,
to serve my neighbor from now on.
The way Bach ends the last line, “imperfectly” on the dominant chord, leaves one with a sense of unfinished business. We shall always be striving to love God with all our hearts, and our neighbors as ourselves, and always in need of grace to do so.
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