Divine Grace

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Matthew 5: 1-12

Dean Hill

Today we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we receive the gift in memory of the communion of saints, and we give ear to the beauty of our second Bach Cantata of the year. We are truly ‘blessed’ as our Gospel lesson affirms. All the senses—sight, sound, scent, touch, taste—are enlivened today.

This is truly good news, especially for those who may be in mortal need of a living reminder, as the lesson says, that we are ‘children of God’. For we can sometimes acutely need such a reminder of belonging, meaning and empowerment. We are acquainted with the night. You are acquainted with the night. As our New England poet memorably put it:

I have been one acquainted with the night.

I have walked out in rain — and back in rain.

I have outwalked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.

I have passed by the watchman on his beat

And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet

When far away an interrupted cry

Came over houses from another street,

But not to call me back or say good-bye;

And further still at an unearthly height,

O luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.

I have been one acquainted with the night.

Robert Frost

To such acquaintance does our sacrament minister, and our communion of saints, and the beauty of Bach. Tell us, if you will Scott, how best we can listen for the gospel today.

Dr. Jarrett

Our work opens with a mighty chorus. Heavy treading footsteps in the bass instruments accompany the wide reaching wailing line of the oboes strings and trumpet. The chorus enters almost chaotically; gradually the work’s organization becomes clear and a striding and extraordinarily energetic fugue brings the movement to a striking close. After a pleading alto recitative, the soprano aria with strings and oboe but no bass instruments creates a world shaking with fear. The shuddering strings, with no foundation of bass instruments, are a shaky base for the heavenly pleading oboe and soprano duet. The voice of Christ reintroduces the bass instruments and stability with its gently rocking texture like a swinging censer. The tenor aria brings back the trumpet. Here however it is confident, even. swaggering, rather than the mournful wail of the first movement. The skittering strings retain some of the shuddering quality of the soprano aria.. Bach saves the most striking gesture for the last. The shaking strings accompany the chorale but gradually slow down to soothing quarter notes by the end of the movement.

Dean Hill

This moment: in word and sacrament, in memory and hope, in voice and instrument. We are blessed. We are recalled as children of God: who enter the kingdom of heaven and receive comfort in mourning, and gentle the earth, and crave goodness, and trade in mercy, and see divine grace, and pave with justice the path of peace, and see out to the far side of hardship.

We gather our bits of hard won wisdom: ‘The only way of achieving any degree of self-understanding is by systematically retracing our steps’. ‘One can know fully only what one has oneself made.’ ‘I was once a philosopher, but joy kept breaking in.’ ‘What we borrow, we also bend.’ ‘To surrender the actual experienced good for a possible
ideal good is the struggle.’

‘I have only just a minute, 
Only sixty seconds in it.
Forced upon me, can’t refuse it.
Didn’t seek it, didn’t choose it.
But it’s up to me to use it,
I must suffer if I lose it,
Give account if I abuse it.
Just a tiny little minute,
But eternity is in it.’

Our music sings it so:

Now, I know, You shall quiet in me

my conscience which gnaws at me.

Your faithful love will fulfill

what You Yourself have said:

that upon this wide earth

no one shall be lost,

rather shall live forever,

if only he is filled with faith.

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

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