The description of the faithful life, the life of the community of faith, professed by John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, is our theme on this Good Shepherd Sunday, in which we hear again, for the last time this school year, the beauty of Bach, in a cantata of praise: ‘watch over one another in love’. On these Sundays we hope to hear the music speak, preach, announce the Gospel of grace. On these and all Sundays we also hope to hear the words sing, harmonize and beautify. Music that speaks and words that sing: for these in the enchantment of worship we do hunger and thirst.
The Gospel of the beloved disciple, and the first letter in that same tradition, are themselves canticles of love. A new commandment we are given: love one another. Love one another says the Risen Christ, even as I have loved you. By this they will know who you are, if you love one another. There is no diminution of authority, as the Shepherd lays down his life. What he lays down, he has the power also to lift up. Our image of the good Shepherd is good enough, but not strong enough. His embrace embraces the globe, sheep of multiple folds, other sheep not of this fold. Not all faithful people are Christian, Protestant, Methodist, Boston University Marsh Chapel people. There are many ways of keeping faith. Our feeling for the good Shepherd is good enough but not powerful enough. He knows, he knows his own, even as he is known by God. Our image of the good Shepherd is good enough but not full enough. One flock, one shepherd: take away from the noise of your differences. When we love we are one, one flock, one Shepherd, one God who is above all and through all and in all.
First John came along to sharpen up what the Gospel left open. The Gospel of Spirit became the Letter of commandment. The Gospel of community, beloved community, became the Letter of authority, ecclesiastical authority. The Gospel of inspiration became the Letter of instruction. The Gospel of freedom became the Letter of love. The Gospel of Incarnation became the Letter of responsibility. There is no mistaking the announcement of grace, a call to obedience, in 1 John. To love is to take responsibility. To love is to be responsive, responsible, to take responsibility. By this we know love…If any one has…and sees…and closes his heart…how does God’s love abide in him?…We should believe and love one another. Would you love? Then you will take responsibility. It is wonderful to have the Gospel. It is good also to have the Letter.
Dr Jarrett, speaking of love and responsibility, I wish every student at our University, and every listener in earshot of our voices, could know the intimate, communal, choral, consanguinity of singing in this choir. I wish all could have some measure, some version, of this choral community in grace, freedom, love and responsibility. It is an experience of really being alive, an experience of love, an act of joyful responsive, responsibility that together we take. We hunger for words that sing. We thirst for music that speaks. Help us to listen in love for illuminating moments in today’s music…
Though written to celebrate Pentocost Sunday, this morning’s cantata has everything to do with watching over one another in love and grace, in the model of the Spirit’s habitation of the soul. Cantata 172 ‘ Erschallet, ihr Lieder, erklinget, ihr Saiten’ was written in 1714 during Bach’s tenure in the town of Weimar.
The themes are grace – in particular Gnadenkuss, ‘the kiss of grace’ – the reviving of the soul – listen for the word ‘erquicken’ – and the broader theme of friendship. In the 14th chapter of John, Jesus prepares his disciples for his departure from earthly life. ‘Friends, if ye love me, keep my commandments, and I will give you another Comforter’. The other Comforter – our constant friend and companion in Grace – the Holy Spirit.
The cantata opens in celebration, complete with festival trumpets and timpani. They continue in the bass aria, heralding the presence of the triune God and the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise in John chapter 14. The nature of the spirit among us is explored in the fluid, breezy lines of the tenor aria which follows. The companionship of the Holy Spirit is revealed in the duet for Soprano and Alto. Here, the Soprano gives voice to the human Soul, and the Alto sings as the voice of the Sprit. Note the text sung by the Alto – I will refresh you, my Child – erquicken – Take the Kiss of Grace from me – GnadenKuss – and finally, and perhaps most beautifully, I am yours, and you are mine! Interwoven in this texture, listen for the solo oboe unfolding in intricate ornamentation the famous chorale. ‘Komm Heilige Geist, Herre Gott’. The chorale which follows is fast becoming a personal favorite for me. The intimacy and life-refreshing presence of the Spirit is detailed in this, the fourth stanza of Phillip Nicolai’s Wie schön leuchtet”
Take me with friendship in your arms, that I might become warmed by your grace!
The cantata concludes with a reprise of the opening movement in full celebration of the Spirit’s Kiss of Grace, and the possibility of life’s fulfillment with the Spirit in, around, through, and among us.
We shall go forth together. We shall live together the commandment of belief and love. We shall trust the shelter of the Shepherd. We shall bring salt to the meal of life. We shall bring light to the dwellings of life. We shall be sheep in another’s fold, little children who love not in word or speech but in deed and truth. With God’s help, we shall so order our lives that we learn, better and better, day by day to watch over one another in love. Of us, pointing to us, here and now, over time, we shall hope, others will see and say, they do watch over one another in love.
You, you Marsh Chapel, you are leading the way. You are taking responsibility. Others will follow. You are leading the way in the affirmation of the full humanity of gay people. Others will follow. Not for you the earlier habits of treating some as 5/5ths and others as 3/5ths human. Not just baptism, confirmation, eucharist, penance and unction for all, but marriage and ordination for all, too. You are leading. Others will follow. You are leading the way in heavenly worship. Not for you a contemporary worship which is neither contemporary nor worship. Not for you the substitution of entertainment for enchantment. Not for you the occupation of pulpits by unordained, untrained, uneducated, unconnected ministers. Not for you the elaborated expenditures of denominations and church leaders who lose their grounding in the basic ministry of the church: the Word of God, the Sacraments of Grace, the service of neighbor. You are leading the way. Others will follow. Why, your example and its shadow will be felt as far into the future as a truly open church, as far down into the trembling depths of every phobia that every closed a heart, or a mind, or a door, as far out into the globe as every poor child. Today I add: as far away, in every way, as a United Methodist General Conference in Tampa, Florida. You are leading the way. Others will follow.
May God give us a mind for words that sing. May God give us a tongue for songs that speak. So fed, may we watch over one another in love.
Come Almighty to deliver, let us all thy life receive
Suddenly return and never, nevermore thy temples leave
Thee we would be always blessing, serve thee as thy hosts above
Pray and praise thee without ceasing , glory in thy perfect love
~The Reverend Dr. Robert Allan Hill,
Dean of Marsh Chapel
Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music