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What an abundance of goodness
You give me!
Yet what shall my conscience
give You in return?
Lord, I know nothing else to bring,
except to sing thanks and praise to You.
• Tenor Aria from BWV 17
As we begin today, just a reminder about why we have been presenting Bach’s cantatas on Sundays throughout 2017. This year is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, and no music exemplifies the Protestant faith as well as that of Johann Sebastian Bach.
An article at Christian History describes his faith and approach to music:
When he was 48, Johann Sebastian Bach acquired a copy of Luther’s three-volume translation of the Bible. He pored over it as if it were a long-lost treasure. He underlined passages, corrected errors in the text and commentary, inserted missing words, and made notes in the margins. Near 1 Chronicles 25 (a listing of Davidic musicians) he wrote, “This chapter is the true foundation of all God-pleasing music.” At 2 Chronicles 5:13 (which speaks of temple musicians praising God), he noted, “At a reverent performance of music, God is always at hand with his gracious presence.”
As one scholar put it, Bach the musician was indeed “a Christian who lived with the Bible.” Besides being the baroque era’s greatest organist and composer, and one of the most productive geniuses in the history of Western music, Bach was also a theologian who just happened to work with a keyboard.
…For a time he wrote a cantata each week (today, a composer who writes a cantata a year is highly praised), 202 of which survive. Most conclude with a chorale based on a simple Lutheran hymn, and the music is at all times closely bound to biblical texts.
…music was never just music to Bach. Nearly three-fourths of his 1,000 compositions were written for use in worship. Between his musical genius, his devotion to Christ, and the effect of his music, he has come to be known in many circles as “the Fifth Evangelist.”
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One of Bach’s cantatas for Trinity 14 is BWV 17, “Wer Dank opfert, der preiset mich” (Who offers praise glorifies me). The Gospel story for the day was the story of the ten lepers in Luke 17:11-19, and this short cantata brings out the theme of gratitude from this account.
For example, the words of the alto aria say:
Lord, your goodness reaches as wide as Heaven,
and Your truth reaches as far as the clouds soar.
If otherwise I knew not, how gloriously great You are,
I could easily see it in Your works.
How could we not therefore constantly praise You with thanks?
For You in return will show us the way to salvation.
May God grant us all the spirit of praise and thanksgiving this morning as we listen to this glorious music, meditate on the beauty of God’s creation, and revel in the love of Christ that passes knowledge!
• • •Photo from Slate.com