Cantata and Covenant

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Luke 16: 19-31

The Chapel’s gothic nave, built to lift the spirit, welcomes you.

The Chapel’s sixty year history, at the heart of Boston University, welcomes you.

The Chapel’s regard for persons and personality, both in its Connick stained glass windows and in its current ministry, welcomes you.

The Chapel’s familiar love of music, weekday and Sunday, welcomes you.

The Chapel’s congregation of caring, loving souls, in this sanctuary, welcomes you in spirit.

Welcome today as we enhance our endowment.

We celebrate the endowment we already have. It is a rich and treasure. It is an endowment vocal not visible, audible not audited, psychic not physical, moral not material. Listen for its echoes…listen…

All the good you can…

The two so long disjoined…

Heart of the city, service of the city…

Learning, virtue, piety…

Good friends all…

Hope of the world…

Are ye able, still the Master, whispers down eternity…

Common ground…

Content of character…

Congregation and community, you come too.

Earthly assembly and heavenly chorus, you come too.

We’re going out to clean the pasture spring.

John Donne once sharply evoked, in a 17th century sermon, the power of divine covenant. Our cantata today coes the same, sharply evoking the power of covenant embrace, of the human, by the divine. Today’s cantata grew up out of a wedding cantata. And weddings are symbols of covenant, human and divine.

Donne preached long ago in London at a May wedding. Rather than reflecting in the abstract about the nature of marriage, or about the understanding of the church as the bride of Christ, or about divine love in general for the human being in general, Donne imagined himself in the bride’s place. He envisioned himself walking publicly down the aisle, to meet the Lamb, the bridegroom. He pictured the procession, his walk toward the Lamb, the bridegroom. He imagined truthfully what the townspeople would whisper about him as he walked forward: “Look at Donne. Do you remember what he did, all that he said, where he failed, all his faults?” How could he possibly be worthy?” Donne had probably seen many seen as many weddings as we do, summer by summer, with their processions, their thresholds of new creation, their sacramental covenants.

Peter Hawkins, our dear friend and teacher, summarize the moment this way: “The Son of God as bridegroom does not care a whit that his intended’s sins once were scarlet. All the bride has to do is lose her scruples, proceed and join in the feast to follow…with complete confidence in the bridegroom’s choice of her. Even if everyone else thinks the union is a mistake, ‘The lamb shall marry me” says Donne the preacher, “and marry me in aeternum, forever”.

It is this kind of covenant joy which the cantata today evokes.

Heavenly Flames

Heavenly Flames: To Be Your Temple

Souls pleasing to you in faith

You chosen souls whom as chosen as his dwelling

Who could choose a greater bliss

Who can count the throng of blessings

So will the site of sacrament be rewarded

Peace Over Israel, Psalm 128

Celebratory, rather than condemnatory

Joyful

Thankful

Give thanks, God has considered you.

I don’t know how I could live without Bach.

Today’s music – written by those great musical preachers of the Baroque Bach and Schütz – amplifies the central Christian message of salvation for all who believe by faith, and enter into covenant with God in Christ.

Let’s start with our offertory anthem, ‘Viel werden kommen’ by Heinrich Schütz. You can read the translation in your bulletin. He draws on a small portion of the text from Matthew Chapter 8 about Jesus’s encounter with the centurion. If you recall the passage, the Centurion, presumably a gentile, comes to Jesus asking him to heal a sick servant. Jesus is moved by the Centurion’s demonstration of faith, and after the miracle – true to form – Jesus finds in this the act a teachable moment. Here comes our text for the anthem. Despite the gnashing of teeth imagery, the scripture in full context ,means that access to Salvation, communion or covenant with God, is available to all, even the most unlikely – think of the woman at the well. He goes a little further here to indicate that, moreover, those who make assumptions about their Salvation may find themselves in the hot seat – just as Rich man Divies in today’s lesson from Luke.

We can’t be certain about biblical interpretations during Schütz’s day, but the set of pieces from which our motet is drawn was published at the end of the Thirty Years War, that awful period which pitted brother against brother, and confession against confession. In the Matthew lesson, Jesus clearly meant that the Centurion, a gentile, shared an equal chance at Salvation. Perhaps Schütz, in the 17th Century, was making a similar statement about Catholic versus Protestant. No great of logic is required to define which divisions plague today’s global community. Regardless, when we meet Schütz at the heavenly banquet with Abraham, Isaac, und Jakob, we can be sure to ask him!

Now to our Cantata for the day. Bach celebrates this communion with Christ, this holy wedding where Christ is bride-groom and we, the Church, his bride, in truly spectacular ways. Originally written for a wedding in 1724, Bach recasts his cantata for a Pentecost Sunday in the early 1740s. More than fifteen years later, he recognized the superior quality of his earlier effort, and found in it a text that suited the celebration of covenant, not just between two people who profess love and devotion for one another, but that this relationship mirrors the believer’s life in Christ, a devotion – a love – fanned by the flame of the Holy Spirit.

Music of the high Baroque is much like a Swiss clock – there is extraordinary beauty in the clock itself – face and casing – but that beauty is deepened by the wonder, precision, and complexities of the moving parts beneath the surface. As an aural guide for Cantata 34, listen for how Bach sets the word Ewiges – or eternal, and at the same time the flickering, darting line sing for the word Feuer – or fire. Notice how Bach sets the word for ‘ignite’ – entzünde – you can almost feel the music spark each time the choir sings it. The trumpet signals the arrival of Christ, as bride-groom, of this most royal of weddings.

The central movement of the cantata, focuses on the rapture of the individual whose body becomes Christ’s Holy Temple. There is a perfection and naturalness of beauty here – directly from the sublimity of Eden’s garden.

The cantata ends in thanks and praise, but not without significant emphasis on Christ’s pronouncement, ‘Peace upon Israel.’

Today we observe two masters whose musical settings give voice to Christ’s wedding invitation. An invitation to all, without amendment or exclusion.

We prepare ourselves for cantata and covenant, in wonder and vulnerability and self-awareness…

Wonder

The ageless boulders of the long abandoned dam, the maple and the great birch by twilight, the chipmunk in the busyness of his days and of his dying, even I, making my dwelling place among them, are not only right in our season. We also have our value in eternity, as witnesses to the audacious miracle of being rather than nothing. Ultimately, that is the moral sense of nature, infinitely to be cherished: that there is something. That is the eternal wonder articulated in the rightness and rhythm of time which humans honor in their commandments, the wonder of being…There are humans…who become blind to goodness, to truth and beauty, who drink wine without pausing to cherish it, who pluck flowers without pausing to give thanks, who accept joy and grief as all in a day’s work, to be enjoyed or managed, without ever seeing the presence of eternity in them. But that is not the point. What is crucial is that humans, whether they do so or not, are capable of encountering a moment not simply as a transition between a before and an after but as the miracle of eternity ingressing intot time. That, rather than the ability to fashion tools, stands out as the distinctive human calling.

Erazim Kohak

Vulnerability

Nothing can make up for the absence of someone whom we love and it would be wrong to try to find a substitute: we must simply hold out and see it through. That sounds very hard at first, but at the same time it is a great consolation; for the gap, as long as it remains unfilled, preserves the bond between us. It is nonsense to say that God fills the gap: He does not fill it, but on the contrary, He keeps it empty, and so helps us to keep alive our former communion with each other, even at the cost of pain.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Self Awareness

Words—I often imagine this—are little houses, each with its cellar and garret. Common sense lives on the ground floor, always ready to engage in ‘foreign commerce’, on the same level as the others, as the passers-by, who are never dreamers. To go upstairs in the word house, is to withdraw, step by step; while to go down to the cellar is to dream, it is losing oneself in the distant corridors of an obscure etymology, looking for treasures that cannot be found in words. To mount and descend in the words themselves—this is the poet’s life…Yet listen well. Not to my words, but to the tumult that rages in your body when you listen to yourself…And why should the actions of the imagination not be as real as those of the perception?

Gaston Bachelard

~ The Reverend Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean of Marsh Chapel
Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music, Marsh Chapel Choir

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