Archive for the ‘Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music’ Category

Sunday
September 26

The Bach Experience

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the full service

Mark 9:3850

Click here to hear just the sermon

The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean of Marsh Chapel:

Time and space are not quite as absolute in determination of our being as sometimes we think. It helps to have a bifocal, stere-optic vision, a two-level drama, of sorts.

That is the nature of the New Testament, shot through from Matthew to Revelation with apocalyptic language and imagery. Our Holy Scripture, both Holy and Scripture, is both heaven and earth.   It is both sacred and secular, at the same time, both divine and human. Its Word walks with human feet and sings with divine voice. Its word faces earth: 670,000 souls gone on to the church triumphant, in one country alone. Its word sings with a divine voice: each one of these is a child of the living God.

The apocalyptic warnings of Mark 9 are not to be taken literally. We know this. We know about hyperbole. Let us pause one good moment to recognize that, and why, and so, we do not understand the Bible as utterly inerrant. The Bible is inspired and so inspires us, and is our first point of reflection, prototypical but not archetypical—first but not exclusive in the church’s long history of the search for truth. These verses, harsh and judgmental, need careful interpretation. So, Matthew cuts half of them, in his use of Mark 20 years afterward. So Luke cuts all of them in his use of Mark 20 years later. Even Mark himself shifts the weight from fear to hope, even in this passage, as he wrestles to interpret what he has inherited, from whatever source: be salt, have peace among yourselves, who is not against us is for us.

So, it is particularly appropriate this special Sunday that we hear a cantata, a beautiful gem of sacred music.

In our time, to express a faith amenable to culture and a culture amenable to faith, to unite the pair so long disjoined, knowledge and vital piety, we have Bach’s  music in this beautiful 16 minute poem. For all our fears, of heaven and of earth, it does ring out a note of hope, does it not?

Dr. Jarrett, for what shall we listen today, we who remember St. Augustine’s proverb, ‘Hope has two beautiful daughters, anger and courage’?

Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music:

The Feast of St Michael, celebrated each year in late September, with its fantastic images of Michael the Archangel slaying Lucifer, the Old Dragon, surely must have come as welcome reprieve from more didactic lessons on the weight of sin that marked the liturgical calendar in late summer. Bach’s musical essays written for Michaelmas prove daring innovation, bravura, and an astonishing capacity for both imagery and imagination. After a year of testing out the capabilities of the very fine Leipzig musicians, including chief of the local Stadtpfeifer Gottfried Reiche, Bach boldly deploys all his singers and players with confidence and ease.

The whole of Cantata 130 is framed around Paul Eber’s Chorale “Herr Gott, dich loben alle wir”, known to the English speaking world as the Doxology: Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Consistent with other cantatas from the second Leipzig cycle, the chorale tune is heard in long tones in the soprano part throughout the first movement. Despite the familiarity and prominent position of this famous tune, Bach’s newly composed music played by the instruments from the beginning both colludes and collides with the Chorale in one of the thrilling, majestic, and playful openings of all the cantatas.

The inner movements remind us that though Lucifer was defeated by Michael and cast down from Heaven, he still burns with deceit and torment for God’s little ones here on Earth. The tail of the serpent ensnares us at any time without notice or warning. Only the eternal presence of God’s angels all around us assures both protection but also victory. We are reminded that it was Michael who was with Daniel and who ushered Elijah to the throne of grace on a fiery chariot. And that, just like them, when we journey to heaven, Michael, the standard bearer, will safely guide us.

Both arias are bold departures with regard to instrumentation and style for the Leipzig Thomascantor. I challenge you to find other examples of trumpets and timpani deployed as the obbligato instrument for a bass aria. Bach and Reiche must have had a wonderful regard for one another. Professor Terry Everson plays the heroic parts today over and around Craig Juricka’s baritone. Whether the tail of the Serpent or the brandished saber of Michael, this marks one of the most difficult and exciting uses of these instruments.

The tenor aria sung today by Ethan DePuy features the Flauto traverso, also new to Bach in Leipzig. Cast in a pastoral gavotte in the new style, we are assured that Michael will be with us to the end.

The stere-optic vision heard in today’s cantata is indeed a multi-valenced thing.

The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean of Marsh Chapel:

Those who have paused, here, or now, to worship with us at Marsh Chapel in the last decade, are aware that we lift the Gospel, come Cantata Sundays, in word and music, together, juntos, in harmony.

Bach brings us the reach of beauty around the globe, a global sphere of orientation.  Bach brings us a stretch toward the universal, the reach up and out to what fully lasts, truly matters, and really counts.  Bach brings us an artistic angle of vision, rooted in Scripture and in an earlier Lutheran garden, nonetheless known by heart and in the heart, far and near, with those, today you and me, who will pause for the offering of the gift of faith.  Bach brings us beauty, a paean for sure to the true and the good, but no avoidance of the beautiful.  In our time, this hour, especially this week, we can truly appreciate, benefit from such a global orientation, a high universal reach, a feeling in faith, and the bathing of such beauty.

Given the maelstrom of this moment in our current climate, our current politics, our current globe, our current culture, the wind blasts of charge and counter charge, the examples of courage and also the instances of failures in courage, near and far, we, come Sunday, maybe especially this Sunday, look for the God who is a rock in a weary land.  Said Dr. Emilie Townes, ‘we want to cultivate a vibrant community of hope… we hope to beget an ever more piercing faithfulness’.  An ever more piercing faithfulness.  Yes.

Today we receive the gift in memory of the faith of the church, and we give ear to the beauty of our first Bach Cantata of the year.  We are truly ‘blessed’.  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 Scripture says, that we are ‘children of God’.  For we can sometimes acutely need such a reminder of belonging, meaning and empowerment.  Even at eventide.  Even at night.  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.

So, it is particularly appropriate this special Sunday that we hear a cantata, a beautiful gem of sacred music.  It is angelic music, written to harmonize with the music of the spheres, and to recall the angels of Scripture, the revelations of Scripture, the heavenly messages and messengers of Scripture, a worthy work to honor St Michael and all the angel chorus.

-The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean of Marsh Chapel and Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music

Sunday
April 25

The Bach Experience

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the full service

1 John 3:1624

John 10:1118

Click here to hear just the sermon

The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean of Marsh Chapel:

Personal Faith

The Christian life is a daily combination of personal faith and social involvement (repeat).  Deep personal faith and active social involvement.

While personal faith is not merely individual faith, nonetheless, it is in persons, like you, that faith is received, and known, and nourished.   There is no hiding here, no hiding behind an unconsidered ignorance, nor behind a well-tempered philosophy, nor behind a mountainous and real hurt, nor behind sloth.  Your faith is yours, especially when it is about all you have left to go on.

So, you will continue, brightened by Easter, to develop and practice your faith.  We are not meant to live in Lent.   We are meant to live in Easter.  The difference Easter makes comes in part by way of a full body embrace of your own personal faith.  Let us in Easter spirit embrace the faith we have been given.

We know God to be a pardoning God.  We hope to be made whole in this lifetime.

Knowing pardon, seeking wholeness, holiness, can you creatively and even at some risk, work with another whom you think needs your pardon, I beg your pardon, but who may himself think you need his?  Just how sharp is your faith in its faithful practice of what we pray, Come Sunday, ‘forgive…as we forgive’?

Longing for wholeness, can you creatively and even at some risk, take up work that you have long left behind, but you know is part of personal faith development—reading, prayer, giving, serving, listening?  Pardon?  Wholeness?  It is up to you.

Here the faithful Lutheran, JS Bach, can indeed help us, by means of his own example in faith.  His own Bible, we have recently been further taught, was laden with notes in the margin, questions, renderings, and ruminations.

Personal faith may quicken with personal practices, of a new post-Covid sort.  In this past year, we may have discovered some new measures of resilience, grace, creativity and love.

One may choose to play the piano again.  Another may take a language study.  One may find a daily devotional reader, which sits on a bureau so one can read it while tying a tie.  Another may sit in the quiet of the sanctuary for a while before worship, as did Emerson, who said, I love the silent church before there is any speaking.  One may wander, saunter, flaner dans le rue, walking for a bit every day.  Exercise is so spiritually central and important. Another may start to journal, to record dreams, and to record insights, and to record angers and to record escapes.  Teaching and learning are spiritual adventures in pursuit of invisibles and intangibles (W. Arrowsmith).  Or, if nothing else, you can hardly do better than a conversation, in loving care, with another person of faith, say, over the phone.  One may look hard at her life, her actual activity, to see whether it becomes the gospel, and whether it approximates the very general guidance in the wisdom saying, in singleness integrity, in partnership fidelity.  At least one, it may be, will choose to listen with weekly discipline to the Marsh Chapel recorded and broadcast service, Come Sunday.  At least one, it may be, will choose to receive as a spiritual practice, the beauty of choral music, Come This and Other Bach Sundays.

Personal faith may quicken with disciplined personal practices, perhaps of a new post-Covid sort, inspired and empowered by the presence of the Good Shepherd, who knows his own and his own know him.

Dr. Jarrett:  in terms of today’s music, and text, what witness do you sense Bach brings us, of personal faith, within the setting of this lovely cantata?

Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music:

Bach

Today’s cantata, is, indeed, a lesson in faith, assurance, and the promise of God’s goodness in our lives. Cantata 69a – “Praise the Lord, o My Soul” was first performed on August 15, 1723, during Bach’s first three months as Cantor in Leipzig. We have seen in these cantatas not just a remarkable display of compositional craftsmanship, but also an authoritative theological understanding through both the compilation of the libretto and the setting of those texts. Cantata 69a features from beginning to end an exuberant and joyful hymn of praise of God and the good works that enable a life of faith. Opening with full festival forces with trumpets and timpani, Bach sets the words of Psalm 103, vs 2 in a marvelous double fugue. The music is absolutely radiant, brilliant, and brimming with the praise of all God’s faithful. With this rich texture, we can well imagine the sound of Wesley’s thousand tongues to sing the great Redeemer’s praise.

For Bach, the Gospel lesson of the day was from Mark 7, the account of Jesus healing the deaf man at the Sea of Galilee. As the cantata turns from corporate to personal praise, the soprano and tenor soloists join the voices that witnessed Jesus’s miracle proclaiming the goodness of his deeds, and the glory of God. The cheerful tenor aria is delightfully score for recorder and Oboe da caccia. Listen for the extended line that Bach writes for the word erzähle or “declare”, and like the man whose tongue Jesus loosed, the tenor promises a “Gott gefällig Singen durch die frohe Lippen” or a “God pleasing singing though joyful lips.”

With the following alto recit, we turn inward to remember our human frailty and shortcomings. With further reminder of the Gospel lesson, the alto calls on God to utter his mighty ‘Ephphata’ just as Jesus did in Mark 7:34. From the singing of that Aramaic word meaning “Be opened”, the otherwise syllabic recitative opens to a lovely melody on the words, “so wird mein Mund voll Dankens sein!” “ Then my mouth will be full of thanks!”

The bass aria which follows affirms God as Redeemer and Protector. The believer, here the voice of the bass, pens himself to Christ’s Cross and Passion, pledging to praise at all times. In the same way that Christ gladly took up the cross, thereby exalting his Passion, we, too, will rejoice and sing praise in our own Cross-bearing and suffering. Note the stark contrast of the lines for Kreuz und Leiden (Cross and Suffering) with “singt mein Mund mit Freuden” (My mouth sings with joy).

The final Chorale echoes the close of Mark 7 proclaiming “He hath done all things well!” “Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan, darbei will ich verbleiben.” Because God holds me in a fatherly embrace in his arms, I will let him alone govern me. Confidence, assurance, affirmation, and ultimately, faith to live in freedom, and freedom to live by faith.

The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean of Marsh Chapel:

Social Involvement

The Christian life is a daily combination of personal faith and social involvement (repeat).  Of deep personal faith, and active social involvement.

The community of the Gospel of John knew the necessity of nimble engagement of current experience, and the saving capacity to change, in the face of new circumstances.   The community of this Gospel could do so because they had experienced the Shepherd, present, ‘here’, hic et nunc.  In distress, we hold onto divine presence, on word, the Shepherd– here.

On the front porch of our beloved Marsh Chapel stands John Wesley, posed in preaching, who reminds us that there is no holiness save social holiness (repeat).  In the tradition which gave birth to Boston University and to Marsh Chapel and so to our worship on this and every Sunday, personal faith and social involvement go together, and, in truth, are not found, except hand in hand.

As all of our 55 weeks and Sundays of worship, teaching, fellowship and remembrance, throughout these 385 days of contagion, masking and vaccine, have evinced among us, pistis and polis, faith and culture go together.   Here Bach may help us, if especially in the surge of beauty his music showers on us a sense of grace, and in so doing gathers us as one.  The older Lutheran preference for the two kingdoms, Christ and Culture in paradox, is at some lesser closeness to the transformational aspiration in Wesley’s social holiness.  Yet Bach’s very vocational choice to embed himself in congregational musical life is itself a harbinger of transformation.  More, the universal regard for the beauty of Bach itself places on the edge of a way forward, as a global village.

As women and men of faith, we are not free to celebrate faith apart from life, to affirm faith in ignorance of the polis, the city, the culture, the political.  The Bible itself is a 66-book declamation of social justice, at every turn, by every writer, with every chapter, at every point.   Moses, Amos, Micah, Matthew, Luke, Paul, All.  Try and read the Bible without being confronted, accosted, seized and shaken by its fierce acclamation of the hope of justice.  Real religion is never very far from justice, even though justice alone, a crucial part of the Gospel, alone is not the heart of the Gospel.  The Gospel is love, which is more than justice—though not less.

You then, in real time, read the newspaper as well as the Bible.  You have reason and obligation to be concerned about what you read.  You have reason and obligation to be concerned about the persons and personalities driving cultural and political formation. You also have reason and obligation to be concerned about the policies, speaking of polis, which emanate from those personalities and persons, those forms of rhetoric and language and behavior. You have full reason and obligation to be concerned about public good, about the polis, about the forms of culture and civil society across our land, painstakingly built up over 250 years, that are not government and not politics, but are more fundamental and more fragile than both.  You have reason and obligation to be concerned about the use of force of any kind, as we have been this past week. For example, our own BU President, Dr. Robert A. Brown faithfully wrote this week:

It’s my hope that this trial, and the activism and awareness which resulted from Mr. Floyd’s death, will bring us closer to that elusive equality, certainly as it relates to policing and the threat posed by law enforcement practices in communities of color. I also hope his legacy—and the legacy of the many other Black people who have lost their lives to police violence—helps to illuminate and redress the many other racial injustices which continue to afflict our society. These tragic deaths cast a bright and honest light on every form of racial antipathy, and I hope this energy carries into the fight we are having today to secure voting rights for people of color, and to stand up against every other manifestation of racism around the world.

Let us run the race set before us. So, as a runner, say, you have reason and obligation to be concerned about the route itself.  Run with joy the race set, but neglect not to engage by precept and example the social support, the cultural forms required for the race.  Like our beloved Marathon, which we have not celebrated now for two years, but we may honor in imagination today:   The route.  The roads cleared.  The police.  The first responders.  The supporting cheerers.  The rules and traditions.  The many, thousands, standing by you, and standing with you, and standing for you.  Personal holiness is the run.  Social holiness is the route (repeat). They go together.

The Christian life is a daily combination of personal faith and social involvement (repeat).  So, our song this Lord’s day, is just this:

Ah, would that I had a thousand tongues!

 Ah, would that my mouth were

Empty of idle words!Ah, would that I said nothing other

Than what was geared to God’s praise!

Then I would proclaim the Highest’s goodness,

For all my life he has done so much for me

 That I cannot thank Him in all eternity.

-Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music

Sunday
February 28

The Bach Experience

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the full service

Romans 4:1325

Mark 8:3138

Click here to hear just the sermon

The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean of Marsh Chapel:

Life

Dateline, Wheeling West Virginia, February 2021.  Sarah Mervosh, The New York Times.

The day had finally arrived.

After nearly a year in lock-down for the residents of Good Shepherd Nursing Home—eating meals in their rooms, playing bingo over their television sets and isolating themselves almost entirely from the outside world—their coronavirus vaccinations were finished the hallways were slowly beginning to reawaken.

In a first, tentavive glimpse at what the other side of the pandemic might look like, Betty Lou Leech, 97, arrived to the dining room early, a mask on her face, her hair freshly curled.

‘I’m too exicted to eat’ she said, sitting at her favorite table once again…

West Virginia has emerged as one of the first states to finish giving two doses of vaccines to the thousands of people inside its nursing homes, so Good Shepherd…was among the first in the country to begin tip-toeing back to normalcy…

The first day back was full of ordinary moments: small talk over coffee, bidding wars at an afternoon auction, a game of dice.  But after a year of loss, loneliness, and disruption, the very ordinariness of it all brought joy and relief.

Ordinary moments.  Back to normalcy.  I’m too excited to eat.

After recovering in the nursing home’s COVID 19 ward, (Ms. Leech) was feeling better, she said, and eager to return to some version of normal life, however simple.  ‘Just seeing the people here’ she said ‘is enough’.  On the menu for this first day back were cheeseburgers and potato soup, unveiled with a flourish of silver serving dishes…

In the bustle of the day, there were moments of stillness.  In the lobby of a stained glass chapel, Frank and Phyllis Ellis savored a quiet reunion…During 69 years of marriage, the Ellises said, they have never spent so much time apart as during the last year.

‘We saw each other on Facebook’ Ms. Ellis said.

‘Facetime’ her husband gently corrected her.  The Ellises visits are short and sterile:  she in a surgical mask, he in a gown…mask and face guard.  He does not even think about kissing her, he said, for fear of putting her at risk…She longs for the comforts of home, for her children and grandchildren.  He long for her and even their marital spats.

‘We were always fighting’ he said ‘I miss that’.

Facetime.  Time apart.  Just seeing the people is enough.  A finely written newspaper article, sparing, graceful, humorous, real.

As demonically and fiercely accosted as has been our very humanity, month by month this year, yet the rhythms of the ordinary, as my friend says, ‘the indicia of normalcy’, are coming around, encircling us in our very need, and offering us a lift for living, offering us a lift for living.

Jesus meets us today out of the pages in St. Mark, our earliest gospel, and clothed in the radiant beauty of a Bach Cantata.  Music and Scripture, indicia of normalcy.

Dr. Jarrett, as you have lovingly and compassionately done for us now over many years, can you help us approach the audition of today’s cantata, with appreciation of both history and theology, a passion for compassion, and a regard for the church, through the ages?

Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music:

Bach

Having just recovered from a very busy Christmas season in his second year in Leipzig, Bach once again turned his attentions and planning to the major work to be offered for Holy Week— the second version of his Passion According to St John. Fortunately for Bach and his stalwart players and singers, the Lenten season offered something of a break in that no concerted music was performed throughout the penitential season, allowing for all preparations to focus on the Holy Week Passion performance.  Never one to give anything but his most remarkable best, Bach composed an absolute masterpiece for the final cantata heard before Lent, ensuring a most memorable musical moment good enough to last the forty days of of wilderness journey and musical austerity. Cantata 127: Herr Jesu Christ, wahr’ Mensch und Gott (“Lord Jesus Christ, true man and God”) seems designed with a grandeur and scope appropriate for the conclusion of the liturgical season, but also an elegant fortaste and reminder of the annual observance of Christ’s Passion a few short weeks away.  All five movements of Cantata 127 are based on Paul Eber’s 1582 hymn of the same name, “Herr Jesu Christ, wahr’ Mensch und Gott.” Though a funeral hymn, the Passion themes of Eber’s chorale connect to the Luke Gospel of the day in which Jesus predicts his death to his disciples. The petition for mercy also calls to mind the blind man’s plea for sight, as also heard in the Gospel lesson. Otherwise, Eber’s verses and the subsequent movements of Cantata 127 present Jesus alone as mediator in both our final hour and on judgement day.

The opening movement surely ranks as one of the finest of all the Chorale based works Bach ever conceived. Eber’s tune is motivically present in nearly every measure of the movement, passed around through the intruments and voices — a motto of triumph and affirmation: true man and true God. But from the very first note the strings outline the German Agnus Dei, Christe du Lamm Gottes in long tones before passing to other sections. Though not sung, the presence of the Agnus Dei calls the listener both to the Blind man’s plea for mercy as well as that ultimate image of the Lamb of God lifted high on Calvary’s Cross. Intermittently, one can even hear O Sacred Head Now Wounded in the continuo line. Almost as a foil, the dotted rhythms in the foreground of the texture seem to dance over the immense theological connections achieved by the layering of so many choral motivs at one time. Far from ponderous or weighty or didactic, this thrilling opening movement brims with all the confidence of grace so freely given.

For the interior of the Cantata, Bach calls on a tenor to set the predicament in a recitative describing how in our own failings, our depths of grief, our final hour, it is our faith that draws us to Christ’s Passion and the assurance of his redeeming grace. The soprano and bass take up the cause at this point in two of the most astounding arias in all the cantatas. In echo with a heart-rending oboe obbligato, the soprano brings us without fear to our final hour: The souls of the righteous are in Jesus’ hand. In the background, the plaintive oboe and soprano lines weave together supported by two recorders and continuo marking an unrelenting and unwavering pulse, the inevitable tick of time. In the middle of the aria, the soprano seems to engage with the tick of clock: Call me soon, O funeral bells, I am unafraid of dying, For my Jesus shall wake me again! As the soprano sings the word for funeral bells — Sterbeglocken — the sprockets and gears of the clock come to life in a nimble-fingered upper-string pizzicato.

The bass draws us one level closer to life in eternity, with invocation of the last trumpet and the harrowing day of judgment. As the earth’s foundation are shattered and sunk in ruin, Jesus will be our advocate and redeemer: Believers shall survive forever; they shall not be judged, and shall not taste eternal Death; Cling to Jesus for your salvation. This is astonishing and breathtaking music. The trumpet’s presence signals the Day of Judgment amidst an apocalypse of fiery passage work for the strings. But the words of Jesus tenderly and reassuringly quell the storm affirming the believer’s redemption.

Bach surpasses himself with this cantata, and I’m so grateful for this opportunity to revisit our performance from February of 2019 for today’s broadcast. As with every interaction with Johann Sebastian Bach, our sights and souls are lifted, our standards reset and renewed, and a sometimes distant vision of what could be finds clarity of purpose, and sincerity of intention.

The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean of Marsh Chapel:

Word

Jesus meets us today out of the pages of Holy Writ, and clothed in the radiant beauty of a Bach Cantata.  It may be, for you, this Lord’s Day, that his appearance, in word and music, just now, brings a lift for living, a lift for living.

One spring, I met my teacher Lou Martyn in the Union Seminary Quadrangle.  He handed me a book as gift, one of John Knox’s books on the early church (Knox of 20century not of the sixteenth).  I cherish the gift now forty years old, which became a kind of sign for the future, then altogether unforeseen.

I returned this week to Knox on Romans.  To hear what he did hear, here. Like my later teacher NT Wright, Knox took on the hard passages, including this one from Romans.

I marvel at the beauty and mystery of this section of Romans 4,  ‘who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist’.

I marvel at the phrase, ‘hope against hope’.  I marvel at its assertion of a hopeless hope, of hope with no prospect, no rationale, no ready support.  Yet…alive.

I marvel that faith is faith, your faith is your faith, when it is what you are left with, all you are left with.

I marvel that faith is reckoned as righteousness, that what stands up in hope against hope is the faith of Abraham.  Abraham before circumcision, Abraham the father of multitudes not just the religious, Abraham the father then of believers everywhere.  No one can keep the whole law.  Every life includes failure, error, mistake, and misjudgment.  All of us stand in need of grace, pardon, forgiveness.

I marvel at the ordering here of resurrection first and creation second, in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. Do you notice?  For Paul here resurrection comes first, then creation, not in a temporal but in an existential sense. Resurrection is the grounding of creation, the grounding of the ground of being, the horizon of the horizon.  When Paul thinks of God, he writes first of the God who raises the dead, and only second of the God who creates.  I marvel at this.  Faith relies on humble trust in God’s mercy and power, as distinguished from reliance on good works. Hope against hope.  To continue to have hope though it seems baseless.

And with this welcoming word, Paul can sing and soar in Romans 5:

Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.

Mark 8 sounds so similar:

If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow.  For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake and the for sake of the gospel, will save it.

You recognize that this is the voice of an early preacher, whose words Mark has placed in retrospect upon the lips of Jesus.   We see Jesus looking back through the cross, as did Mark.  We hear Jesus through the din of the passion, as did Mark.  We know Jesus through the rigor of trying to follow after him, even if we are a long way behind, as did Mark.  And, as Schweitzer deftly reminded, all, all is shot through with mystery:

He comes to us as one unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside, He came to those men who knew Him not.  He speaks to us the same word, ‘Follow me!’  and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfill for our time.  He commands.  And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.’ (QHJ, 389).

-Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music

Sunday
January 31

The Bach Experience, Imago Dei: Bach and the Golden Rule

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the full service

Click here to hear just The Bach Experience

Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music:

As we turn again to our regular musical conversation partner, Johann Sebastian Bach, the tri-partite  rhythm of Tradition, Confrontation, and Response echoes in the works of Bach, a fifth Gospel transforming thought, word, and deed into a sacred song of praise, inspiration and aspiration.

Today, we feature five movements from five cantatas heard over the past two decades here at Marsh Chapel in our Sunday morning liturgy. As with Bach, we begin and end with hymns of praise and adoration, before confronting the challenges of our earthly predicament. Bach seems to acknowledge the difficulty we have in loving our neighbor, but he challenges us to embrace the transformative experience of a daily opportunity to extend God’s grace, Loving into freedom and freeing into greater Love.

We begin in joyful adoration with the opening movement of Cantata 69: Bless the Lord, O My Soul and forget not all His benefits.

BWV 69a.1| Lobe den Herrn, meine Seele          August 15, 1723

Psalm  103:2

Lobe den Herrn, meine Seele, und vergiß nicht, was er dir Gutes getan hat!

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits!

The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean of Marsh Chapel:

And now, a pivot, a challenge, a confrontation, an opportunity for contrition perhaps:

Ecclesiasticus 1:28 — “See to it that thy fear of God be not hypocrisy, and do not serve God with a double heart”

Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett:

Ah yes, the Apple of Sodom. Did you ever hear of this mystical fruit?? Bright and shiny on the outside, but so rotten inside, that it instantly dissolves into ash when plucked. For Bach and the librettist of Cantata 179, the Apple of Sodom represented a dire warning for the faithful: see to it that your inner and outer piety are of equal sincerity. The idea of reflection and mirroring the image of the creator is seared into the very counterpoint of the movement we’re about to hear. Written as a fugue, notice how successive entrances are cast in mirror inversion of the main theme — a paradigm for the purity faith requires, inside and out. One can hear the strain and stress of a false or double heart in the descending chromatics sung on the word Falsche or False. See to it, that your fear of God be not hypocrisy. Serve God with a pure heart, reflecting and mirroring God’s infinite grace and mercy.  Jaunty, didactic, even admonishing, Bach readily flexes his contrapuntal muscles with zeal and ardor, inviting the faithful to seek the high ground, survey the common ground, but not before we’ve scoured the background.

BWV 179.1 — Siehe zu, dass deine Gottesfurcht nicht Heuchelei sei          August 8, 1723

Ecclesiasticus 1:28

Siehe zu, daß deine Gottesfurcht nicht Heuchelei sei, und diene Gott nicht mit falschem Herzen!

See to it that thy fear of God be not hypocrisy, and do not serve God with a double heart.

Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett:

Hear these words from the prophet Isaiah:

“Deal thy bread to the hungry, and bring the poor  that are cast out to thy house. When thou seest the naked, cover him; and hide not thyself from thine own flesh. Then shall thy light break forth as the morning and thy health shall spring forth speedily; and thy righteousness shall go before thee, the glory of the Lord shall be thy reward.”

The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill:

The idea of reflecting the image of the creator is the creative spark at the heart of the golden rule. For to love your neighbor, extending grace, is indeed the image of God’s grace so freely and readily given to each of us. What begins as social justice for Isaiah – feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the unhoused, becomes the animus for our own transformation.

Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett:

Like Jesus in today’s lesson from Mark 1, Bach teaches us with remarkable understanding and authority. What begins as hollow, even disembodied “dry bones” music, more resembling those who most need our help, little by little takes on sinews until fully clothed in the garb of a joyful dance.

The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill:

Love and serve your neighbor, and do so with the understanding that this above all rejoices God’s heart, transforming us with the brightness of the morning sun.

BWV 39.1 — Brich dem Hungrigen dein Brot          June 23, 1726

Isaiah 58: 7–8

Brich dem Hungrigen dein Brot und die, so im Elend sind, führe ins Haus! So du eienen nacket siehest, so kleide ihn und entzeuch dich nicht von deinem Fleisch. Alsdenn wird dein Licht herfürbrechen wie die Morgenröte, und diene Besserung wird schnell wachsen, und deine Gerechtigkeit wird für dir hergehen, und die Herrlichkiet des Herrn wird dich zu sich nehmen.

Deal thy bread to the hungry, and bring the poor  that are cast out to thy house. When thou seest the naked, cover him; and hide not thyself from thine own flesh. Then shall thy light break forth as the morning and thy health shall spring forth speedily; and thy righteousness shall go before thee, the glory of the Lord shall be thy reward.

The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill:

The Golden Rule. Seems so easy, so straightforward. The Law – to love the Lord your God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might, and with all thy mind, and thy neighbor as thyself. Jesus offers simply and directly, “Love one another.” No other qualifications or exemptions, but Jesus’s Lucan parable of the Good Samaritan acknowledges our human failings.  In so doing, Jesus reveals a sublime dialectic – Law and Grace, inextricably connected, inviting us daily to acknowledge our sin, claim God’s redeeming grace, and freely share that same Grace.

Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett:

In recent years, our survey of Bach’s cantatas has drawn inspiration and focus from those cantatas Bach wrote in his first months in Leipzig: July, August, and September of 1723. These works reveal an astonishing and radiant understanding of the scripture, far beyond mere text setting. The grand and bold opening movement of Cantata 77 unfolds with tender, unassuming lines, that ultimately gather to the most extraordinary musical essay on the great dialectic of the Law and Grace. The highest and lowest instrumental voices play the familiar Ten Commandments chorale tune in grand canonic imitation. But these lines attain new meaning and height when we realize that the inner lines sung by the chorus are that same melody sung backwards and upside down. Grace is inextricably derived from the creative stuff of the Law, in perfect equilibrium, the most noble expression of contrite, sincere love of God — a pure reflection of inner and outer piety. Bach’s musical expression of Imago Dei – the Image of God.

BWV 77.1 — Du sollt Gott, deinen Herren, lieben          August 22, 1723

Luke 10:27

Du sollt Gott, deinen Herren, lieben von ganzem Herzen, von ganzer Seele, von allen Kräften und von ganzem Gemüte und deinen Nächsten als dich selbst.

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself.

The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill:

Well beloved, today’s journey with Bach celebrates that perfect state of grace attained when we — each of us — imparts grace, kindness, patience — persistent patience — all without quid pro quo.

Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett:

Imago Dei. The mirror of the divine: freeing into love, and loving into freedom. Freide über Israel! Peace upon Israel. Bach’s song to you, God’s abiding peace to you.  Peace upon Israel.

BWV 34.5 — O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe          1740s

John 14: 23 and 27

Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our abode with him. Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.

Friede über Israel. Dankt den höchsten Wunderhänden, Dankt, Gott hat an euch gedacht. Ja, sein Segen wirkt mit Macht, Friede über Israel, Friede über euch zu senden.

Peace upon Israel! Give thanks to the Almighty’s wondrous hands, Give thanks that God has been mindful of you. Yea, the might of His blessing casts peace upon Israel, and peace upon you.

-Compiled and written by Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music

Sunday
November 8

The Bach Experience

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the full service

Matthew 25:1-13

1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18

Click here to hear the sermon only

The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean of Marsh Chapel:

Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

The dilemma of today’s parable is the dilemma of our very lives.  Much of life is simply a long wait.  Don’t we know it this week.  Don’t we know it this first week in November, 2020.  Change comes but not as fast as we would like.  Change comes but not as fully as we would like.  Change comes but not just as we would like.  So:  stand up, stand firm, stand ready, stand strong.  And watch.  For you know neither day nor hour.

Our gospel has made use of a story known elsewhere in antiquity (cf., Bultmann, HST, loc.cit).  The power of the wedding, as you know from other parts of Holy Scripture, stood at the very pinnacle of experience and religious teaching, in antiquity.   Here the gospel writer has appended a (very noble) encouragement to watchfulness, to someone else’s parable, now re-arranged near the end of the first century of the common era.

Our more trustworthy manuscripts include the bride, too, ‘ten maidens…went to meet the bridegroom and the bride’.   In fact, nowhere in antiquity do maidens await simply the bridegroom.  They await the bride.  The wedding is about the bride, friends, then and now. That is why we call these ten ‘bridesmaids’  They attend the bride, and especially in the great exultation of the translation from home to home, from parents to spouse, like the sun rising from the eastern heavens, daily, the bridegroom with the bride runs the course with joy.

So, why has the writer eliminated the bride?  He does so to make the parable fit the church’s biggest spiritual disappointment, keenly and painfully suffered by 90ad.  Disappointed hope.  Hope deferred.  Hope, like that fiery hope of 1 Thessalonians, suddenly left empty. Christ was risen from the dead which must mean the end of time which must mean his return in power and glory which must mean the soon and very soon parousia, the coming of the Lord.  But 30ad became 50ad and 50ad became 70ad and 70ad became 90ad.  And the bridegroom (here shorn of bride clearly a figure of Christ) delays.  He delays…

The original parable is not about awaiting the return of Christ, but about living through a long wait. The maidens, the bridesmaids, some prepared and some not, all have to wait.  And it is a long wait.  And that is just the point.

You may think of a woman waiting to give birth.  You may think of a population, long enslaved, waiting for justice to roll down like waters.  You may think of a war torn region, the setting for endless decades of mayhem and war and violence, waiting for the dawn of peace.   You may think of a doctoral student waiting for that final report, the dissertation–finished.  You may think of a denomination waiting the simple wisdom to affirm the full humanity of gay people.  You may think of those afflicted and infected with a deadly virus, or fearing such for their loved ones, awaiting a vaccine for healing.  You may think of a man hoping for a job and daily awaiting a letter.  You may think of a physician attending a patient suffering from a mental illness, hoping against hope for a delayed cure.  You may think of a lonely woman, a tithing Christian, waiting for a pastor to leave off further libraries and degrees and come to her church, and come to her house, and make a visit, and say a prayer.

Or, say this week, you may think of a country born with liberty and justice for all, awaiting an election resolution, with liberty and justice for all.  With all votes counted.

Whether or not the full range of doctrine and teaching in Christianity has yet convinced you to move from the worship of selfishness to the joy of generosity, surely, at least at this point, you would admit its congruence with your experience.  Faith and life both are a long wait.  And today that is just the point.

How shall we trim our lamps for the wait?  The parable moves quickly to the importance of preparation.  A little patience?  A little persistence?  Oil for the lamps during the long wait.

Patience.  The patience of Job.  Patience is a virtue. Love, joy, peace… patience.  Patient in suffering.

Persistence.  Persistent prayer.  Persistence as insistence.  To exist is to persist. Labor omnia vincit.  The persistence of Paul. Pray…without ceasing.

The life of faith, the spiritual life, carries us down into the caverns of experience.  Our steadiness in faith, our reliance on faith, are most clear to us when everything else is murky, misty, dark and dank.  Say, this week. Faith is only faith when it is all you have left.

Two registers of the spiritual life, the life of faith, down in the declivities and caves of time, are patience and persistence.   Over the course of a week, or a year, or a lifetime, one needs both.  You need both.  You need both the passive attentiveness of patience and the active resistance of persistence.

One is the brake pedal.  That is patience.  You are careening down hill.  Your plan, your work, your friendship, your marriage, your culture, your profession are going south.  You need a way to put a foot on the brakes, to slow the decline, to ease the demise.  Patience can help you to do that.  One day at a time.  Sleep on it.  Things will look better in the morning.  Patience is your way of managing the rolling ride down hill.

The other is the accelerator, the gas peddle.  That is persistence.  You are looking uphill.  The climb is before you and the incline daunting.  Your plan, your work, your friendship, your marriage, your culture, your profession are all in the balance, nothing is for sure, nothing is taken for granted.  You can rest, but later.  Now you need to put the peddle to the metal and climb the hill.  Slow and steady wins the day.  Keep on keeping on.  One step at a time.  Persistence is your way of empowering the grinding ride up hill.  As Maggie Smith writes, Keep Moving.

Both patience and persistence are underrated virtues.  They shy away from the lime light.  They don’t do well in the bright light.  But for your faith, your communal shared faith, to quicken and to continue, you will need both patience and persistence.  For sustenance, energy, endurance in the long wait, you and I need both.

Some of you are more naturally patient.  Make sure you practice persistence too.  Some of you are more naturally persistent.  Make sure you practice patience too.

Sometimes though, in the life of faith, in the spiritual life, you need more gas and less brake, more persistence than patience.

My dear friend, Dr. Jarrett, how is our Bach Experience this morning, a patient and persistent meditation on mortality, meant to teach and guide us?

Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music:

Since 2007, Music at Marsh Chapel has programmed the cantatas of Bach in a regular annual series feauring these works in their original liturgical design as musical sermons. In this context, it was Bach’s task to work through the theological ideas at hand. These cantatas, comprising solo arias, recitatives, choruses, and chorales, with librettos using both scripture and free poetic texts, typically last about 20 – 30 minutes. In 2017, we focused on cantatas Bach composed in July and August of 1723 during his first weeks in Leipzig as cantor at the St. Thomas Church. Each cantata is masterpiece in miniature, and we continue to marvel at the astonishing invention, creativity, and complexity revealed note by note.

Cantata 95, ‘Christus, der ist mein Leben’, takes up one of the most difficult but ubiquitous themes of Bach’s day: how to reconcile and countenance our mortality. Our program annotator writes: “Consider that pre-Enlightenment Germany saw death and devastation in the Thirty Years’ War unknown to Europe since the fourteenth century, and that Bach himself was orphaned at age ten and lost his first wife and ten of his twenty children. Death was all around; the promise of immediate salvation cultivated a cultural longing for it and served as a powerful call to faith.”

Serving to teach, remind, and also comfort, Bach drew on four different familiar hymns or chorales that serve as the foundation for this seven-movement cantata. These tunes and texts serve as a beacon to the believer — a tuneful and memorable transmission of theology: Christ, He is my Life, To die is my gain; To it do I surrender myself, With joy I go yonder. / With peace and joy I go there according to the Will of God. Death has become my sleep. / I would bid you farewell, You evil, false world. In heaven it is good to dwell. / Since Christ is arisen from the dead, I will not remain in the grave; Your last Word is my ascension, Death’s fear You can drive away. For where You are, there do I come, That I may always live and be with You; Therefore I depart with joy.

These chorales establish the orthodoxy around which the believer can begin to reconcile his own personal response and call. Musically, the four chorale settings also offer a compositional guide to the possibilities of setting chorale tunes. The first is set as an orchestral chorale fantasia with each phrase of the chorale set off by exuberant motives from the oboes and strings in G major. The second, heard as the concluding section of the first movement, casts the chorus in counterpoint with the oboes and and horn set over a more rhythmic, walking bass line. The soprano soloist takes up the third chorale, in a little aria that becomes a sweet devotional song with two oboes d’amore in unison encouraging her song. The cantata concludes with a four part setting of the fourth chorale in an expected way, with the notable addition of a fifth voice as descant in the first violin part.

The most remarkable music of the cantata is reserved for the tenor soloist, who, through his clarity of faith, teaches Bach’s congregants a possibility of their personal attitudes toward mortality. His music in the central aria is sung almost in spite of the music of the instruments, which seem to proceed on their own clock. The aural image here is one of funeral bells, or a glockenspiel in a bell tower. The strings play entirely pizzicato, or plucked, throughout, and the organ remains silent. You can imagine this sound as the inner workings of the clock played in precise and regular patterns and rhythms. Above the strings, the two oboes play their melody in parallels. The missing third note of their chords is obscured in the pizzicatos of the first violin part. And, to my ear, this further contributes to the ‘mechanized’ sound of this music – a Leichenglocken or funeral bells. The tenor joins up musically with the instruments every time he sings the words “blessed hour”, singing the third or missing note in the oboe pattern. There are so many choices here from the composer revealing a musical reality the likes of which only a Johann Sebastian Bach could imagine.

In this bizarre time of pandemic, I, like you, struggle with some sort of balance — or is it, imbalance? — of patience and persistence. Regardless, this cantata from our archive of recordings reveals the cumulative effort of our persistent focus on the study of Bach’s music and the possibility of talent assembled around it. Soprano Mary Ruth Lown, Bass Craig Juricka, and tenor Patrick T Waters have each devoted years of service as Marsh Chapel Choral Scholars. Though we don’t hear them singing live today, I wait patiently for that “blessed hour” when we will again.

The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean of Marsh Chapel:

So. The dilemma of today’s parable is the dilemma of our very lives.  Much of life, as in the story, and as in the Cantata, is simply a long wait.  It is a long wait, and that is just the point.   The primitive Christian church endured such a lengthy wait through six decades prior St. Matthew, awaiting the bridegroom’s return.  And He delayed.  And He delays still.

In the interim, ad interim, come Sunday, here is an invitation for you and all.  Worship on Sunday.  Come to and toward the church.  The doors of this community of faith are open to you.

That is, you may benefit, should you seek patience and persistence, from consort with a community born in patience (that is, suffering) and persistence (that is, endurance).  Suffering produces endurance, and endurance character, and character hope, and hope does not disappoint us.  Why?  Because of the Love of God that has been poured into our hearts.  There is hardly anything happier than finding a church family to love and a church home to enjoy.  Be welcome here at Marsh Chapel.  For fifteen years I have bathed and basked myself in the genuine love and welcome of this community, to my mortal and eternal benefit.  You come too.

I can think of no better auditory invitation for you than that of the faithful person about to guide us in prayer.  Here is the voice of one of our own community lay leaders, Ms. Sandra Cole, our Marsh Chapel Membership Secretary, on whose prayer and prayers we have come to rely, month by year by decade, including and especially this week:

Ms. Sandra Cole, Marsh Chapel Membership Secretary:

God, our help and deliverer[1]

We bow before you, anxious and fearful of what lies ahead and so we bring our concerns to you.  We have been through a searing election season, which has pushed us further and further apart as we focus an indicting spotlight on the others:  the democrats, the republicans, the independents, the non-voters, the elected officials, the candidates, the poor, the rich, the peaceful protesters, the police, and countless other others.  Some of us navigate social justice inequities as a way of life, while some of us don’t believe there’s a real problem.  We lack empathy.   Some of us feel threatened by the increasing diversity of our country. Some of us value our diversity as a source of strength.   As a nation, we are divided.  The notion of  “E Pluribus Unum”,[2] out of many, one, is missing in action, much like the coins that bear this aspiration. We are still in the midst of a deadly pandemic that has forced us to take refuge, separated from our families, friends and communities of faith.  We indict those who, through their actions and words, refuse to believe it is dangerous.  We indict those who, through edict or action, strive to preclude the virus’ advance.

Though we seek your deliverance from our anxiety and fear, we, like David[3], pause to rejoice and be glad[4] for your steadfast goodness and mercy in our lives[5].   We are thankful that you are our ever-present help in times of trouble[6]. We are comforted by your presence, for you lead us to the refuge of still waters and restore our souls[7].   As we walk face these existential threats to our country and ourselves, we are fearless for we feel your presence beside us[8].   For your faithful presence, we praise you and give you thanks.

As we praise you, we urgently seek your help.  Deliver us from the evil of our personal sins against others. Forgive us, Lord and abide with us. Walk beside us and help us to stay on course in our Christian journey.  Help us to patiently follow your guide and take the path of righteousness.  Help us to be persistent in following your direction. Abide with us so that we guard against spiritual temptation, stand firm in the faith and are bold and steadfast Christians[9].

We pray for our country. Give us unity.  Give us peace.  Direct our elected and appointed officials in the way of wisdom and lead them on the path of righteousness[10].

Bless the veterans who have served in peace or war, who sacrificed and fought for the freedoms we have today. For their courage, faith and hope, we are thankful.

Comfort the sick and those with broken lives and broken hearts. Take the worry from our minds, merciful Father. When we fear what lies ahead, help us to remember that you are our companion through the difficult times[11].  Help us to keep our mind focused on you – to wait for you, Lord, for you alone are our help and shield[12].

As a faithful people, we bring our concerns to you, sure and certain that you will hear our prayers, you will answer our prayers and that your promises will be fulfilled [13].  We pray these things in the name of the  Love of God[14], the Good Shepherd[15], amen.

And now as virtual community, let us pray his prayer[16] together.

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come.

Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation.

But deliver us from evil

For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever and ever.

Amen

-The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean of Marsh Chapel

Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music

Ms. Sandra Cole, Marsh Chapel Membership Secretary

_________________________
1 Psalm 70:5
2 Continental Congress description of the Great Seal
3 Psalm 70:4 or Psalm 40:16
4 Psalm 70:4 or Psalm 40:16
5 Psalm 23:6
6 Psalm 46:1
7 Psalm 23:2-3
8 Psalm 23:4
9 1 Corinthians 16:13
10 Proverbs 4:11
11 Genesis 15:1
12 Psalm 33:20
13 Hebrews 11
14 Dean Hill’s sermon for 8 Nov 20; 1 John 4:9
15 John 10:1-16
16 Mathew 6:9-13

Sunday
September 27

The Bach Experience

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the full service

Matthew 21:23-32

Click here to hear just the sermon

The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill:

This Sunday we are confronted by one of the most endearing, and most alluring little parables in all of Scripture, maybe in all of literature.

How it fits with the rest of the lesson is not entirely clear.   Nor is it clear how the lesson in Matthew fits with the other assigned readings for the day, Philippians and our Psalm, say.  Dark sayings from of old, indeed.

But the collision of order and answer, of beckoning and response, has to haunt.

A man has two sons. Already, the plot is thickened, with rivalry, with competition, with family intrigue.

Then the preaching of the gospel occurs. The vintner—we will prefer vintner to father here—tells something, it is a statement that beckons, not formally a question nor even an invitation. Simply a command. Go.

He commands. Albert Schweitzer would be pleased.

Go and live, go and work, go and love, go and prune, go and pluck, go and tend your garden. Go. Up and Go!

Every day and every Lord’s Day, the word arises to us, singeing our nostrils. Go. The day accosts us with a challenge to the good, to a choice if John Dewey is right between goods.

You know, you may have a feeling about a feeling abroad.

Some of us sometimes have the sinking feeling that things are not going so well, that things are drifting or worse.

We see cultural wounds that do not heal.

We see environmental gashes that we rue, fire burning, burning, burning.

We see a national economy that leaves out at least 14 million people, the equivalent of the total population of New England. Maybe twice that when you get everybody counted.

We see a beloved country and respected government that can’t seem provide national leadership to face a national pandemic problem, countrywide leadership to face an invasion with now 200,000 dead.  No national testing, no national equipping, no national protocols.

We listen again to the cries of anguish from minority communities, communities of color, stinging still from policing that harms rather than heals.

And, step lightly here, ten cuidado: It is hard to oppose without being shaped by what you oppose. Maybe to some measure impossible.

You know, then, there is an ennui abroad, measures of anxiety and depression, perhaps inevitable to some measure if one is aware, listening, thoughtful, a languishing in doldrums of pervasive malaise.

So, when the word comes. Come Sunday: Up! Go! You! Work! Vineyard! Today!

Uh…We pull up the covers and sleep in, or call in sick, or drive in late, or just are not really sure we can do anything about all these irremediable driftings.

What difference does it make what I do?  So the despond whispers.

So, says son one, I will not go. Son two, the craftier of the two, evades, the compliant not the defiant one. He says Yes Mrs. Cleaver, but he doesn’t go. He never meant to. He just doesn’t like conflict. Well who does?

But the first son has a change of heart.

Now we find this so encouraging, heartening, lovely. Up front, he says, no way, no way Jose. He is defiant, and willing to say it. I don’t think so, Mr. Vintner, Mr. Father, Mr. Voice, Mr. Life, Mr. Daytime. I think I will just turn in my ticket. Thanks, but no thanks.

But…he has a change of heart.

Will you notice with me that the main thing we want to know is not told to us?

We want to know, what changed the heart? What did the trick? What sealed the deal? What moved the lever?

And the Bible says, ‘Address Not Known’. Edmund Steimle would be pleased. In other words, it is shrouded in mystery.

So, we are a little free to speculate. We do not know what brought the change of heart.

But we know what can bring a change of heart.  And we are offered it today.

Beauty.

An experience of the beautiful can change the heart. A thank you note. A sunrise. A poem. A violin sonata. A student remembering a childhood hurt, and letting it go: there is a beauty in that moment. A cantata.

When you pause for prayer or worship on Sunday, you may be saying no. NO I WILL NOT. You may be not willing to have any change, let alone a change of heart. It is in that very condition that John Wesley went in the rain to Aldersgate Street, May 1738. NO I WILL NOT GO TO THE VINEYARD, not today, baby, not today.  No, I will not send another check, make another volunteer phone call, engage another disagreement, write another letter to the editor, another op-ed, another sermon, another apparently futile attempt to change the direction of things, another prayer, another something.  No, I will not try again to oppose vulgar, profane trash talk rising like a tide all around:  let someone else take it on.

But…

You tune in to virtual worship, you listen for the regular rhythm of ritual, you receive again the confession of the church and…

Beauty.

Organ meditation. Hymn. Holy Writ. Word spoken. Bach.

Said Scott Allen Jarrett: “Music can say things that words never can.”  

One of the winds beneath our wings comes from our music ministry. Yes, at Christmas and Easter, on Communion Sundays, for special University services like Matriculation and Baccalaureate and Martin Luther King Sunday and others, but also, and notably so for us, on our twice a term Bach Sundays. The word and music of these days keep us moving forward together.

Beauty is like that.

Dr. Jarrett, it is good to have you alongside this morning, to have your presence, faithfulness, voice, and talent offered to God and neighbor.  It cannot be easy to lay down the weekly rhythms of choral music, so heart central to your work and our life.  You have heard me quip before that what silence is the Quakers and Eucharist is the Catholics and Leviticus is the Bible Baptists, and the grim doctrine of predestination is the Presbyterians, and the Epistle to the Romans is to the Lutherans—singing, singing, singing is to us, as Methodists and as Marsh Chapel.  So, we are grateful for the archival gifts and treasures that you have crafted over long time.  Greet us and teach us this Lord’s Day…

Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett:

Thank you Dean Hill. On the radio the other day, a commentator asked listeners what they most looked forward to when the veil of pandemic is lifted. Among the respondents, a physician said she couldn’t wait to gather her amateur string quartet together once again. My heart smiled hearing this; perhaps yours does, too. Are we not all starved for Beauty, Dean Hill? Beyond revealing a crucial litmus of our values and the possibility of our strivings, the pursuit of Beauty so often models the best path forward and offers a way to make sense of it all — a reconciling Grace, if you will. We so sorely need this today. I can’t tell you how lonely it is to stand here in the Chancel of Marsh Chapel, flanked by Handel and Bach in the wood carvings to my right and left without the beloved members of our musical community alongside pursuing together the Beauty of which I speak. (pause) 

Our archives recall one such highlight when the Chapel Choir and Collegium last studied and performed Cantata 179, Bach’s arched lesson on Heuchelei — Hypocricy.  By all means, Go, Sow, Toil, Labor, get to your vineyard, but make certain that your pious airs are sung with a pure heart. For Bach, the Gospel text for Sunday, August 8, 1723, was the Luke story of the Tax Collector and the Pharisee, both praying in the Temple. Bach’s lesson is a heavy handed warning against the hypocrisy of the Pharisee, and an injunction to all to align inner and outer attitudes of faith. Furthermore, our own depravity of sin weighs us down, and it is only by acknowledging our sin before God that we may attain God’s mercy and grace. Listeners, I think you’d better get another cup of coffee. 

We have come to trace the message of these cantatas as a move, broadly speaking, from orthodoxy at the beginning to personal or pietist devotion in the arias back out to the corporate expression of lessons learned in the final chorale. Let’s consider the two arias from the central portion of the cantata first. Each is preceded by a recitative in which Bach’s librettist reminds the listener of the elements of the Luke parable. The tenor leads off by indicting today’s Christians as puffed up, outwardly righteous, and ultimately lacking an inner purity of faith. He sings a scathing aria likening these hypocrites to Apples of Sodom, a fruit that dissolves into ash and smoke once they are picked. Though they gleam on the outside, they are filled with Unflat—filth—and in case you hadn’t guesses it, none of this will hold up before God.

The next pairing of recit and aria brings this message home, a more immediate and personal call to true piety and faith. The bass reminds us that the only way to attain relief from this sinful state is to acknowledge our sins before God. Next comes the most beautiful aria in the cantata. Sung by soprano with two hunting oboes – the oboe da caccia, today played by two English horns – the message is a plangent and pious prayer for mercy. The interweaving oboe lines played over the pulsing continue line setup the soprano’s fervent plea for mercy. In the middle of the aria, she describes the depths of her sin as coming from within her bones, and that they drown her in a deep mire. Listen for the text painting throughout this aria used by Bach to depict the weight of sin.

Without any turn toward promised redemption, the cantata concludes with the expected four-part chorale setting. Here, ‘Ich armer Mensch’ continues the distressed state of the soprano by sustaining the emotion, and thereby, the congregation takes up the soprano’s prayer.

The cantata is decidedly didactic start to finish, with the moral of the story appearing right at the front as the text of the first movement: See that your fear of God is not a hypocrisy, and do not serve God with a false heart. Bach sets this opening movement in an older style of polyphonic writing, and as much as the text is a ‘rule’, he sets it as a fugue. But there’s one element that truly takes this form to heights only possible in the hands of Bach: the second entrance of the fugue is in complete inversion of the original subject, an exact mirror image. Bach’s fugue bears the same message on the outside as on the inside, a musical device to prove the enduring lesson of the Gospel.

The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill

Listening again to Matthew and the parable, we recall that, you know, sometimes, we come saying no, but leave saying yes.

The envisioned mission of Marsh Chapel is be a heart in the heart of the city, and a service in the service of the city.  Our use of President Merlin’s epigram means city as the global city, and service as worship and work.   Our foci guiding this envisioned mission are voice, vocation, and volume.   This year we take our lead from the new, refreshed Boston University Plan, especially its own five-fold foci:  academics, research, globality, diversity, community.  With Bach, we take research into a different direction and dimension.

ResearchTwice a term the Director of Music, Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, engages our collegium, choir, community and listenership in a full morning of teaching about JS Bach, and enjoyment of a Bach Cantata in worship.  The Bach Experience (lecture, gathering, worship, and sermon (this dialogue between the Director and the Dean)), are novel and preeminent advancements in learning and performance, and our own offered sort of research.  They also will contribute to the Dean’s emerging work in Biblical Theology, an ongoing multi-year study. We commit to enhancement of this project.

What changes the heart?

What baptizes the person, the heart, the spirit?

The beauty of the music this morning is itself a sort of baptism.  We sometimes long to take a spiritual shower, to bathe ourselves in the living waters of grace, faith, hope, life, and love.   Especially, it might be stressed, autumn 2020, the need for spiritual cleansing in the midst of sub cultural murkiness, is continual.  We need both judgment and mercy, both honesty and kindness, both prophetic upbraid and parabolic uplift. 

What pierces, transforms, moves the heart?

Beauty does.

It does.

It says, whispers, reminds:

There are a lot of things wrong. But there are a lot of things right. Somebody wrote this cantata—sheer beauty. Someone practiced and taught it—sheer beauty. Someone sang it and played it—sheer beauty. And here I am. I heard it. I heard it.

Music can say things that words never can.

Maybe number one son huffed no. Then…he saw moonlight on the sea of Galilee. Or…his wife was singing a lullaby as the children went to sleep. Or…he remembered a part of a Psalm. Or…he remembered the loving and lovely self-giving of a loved one—maybe that
of his father, now long dead. Or…a friend came by…or came through.

Then he thought…

Well, maybe, well, maybe

Maybe things are bad, but maybe they can get better, and maybe better is the only good there is.

Maybe that is what you will think, leaving today.

Beauty stands beside me

Beauty stands beside me

I hear, I hear, I hear

Maybe I will say yes after all, yes to a new challenge.

Maybe I will remember Camus’ doctor in The Plague: ‘decency consists of doing my job…the only way to fight the plague is with decency’.

Maybe Vaclev Havel’s proverb will seize me: ‘live within the truth’.

Maybe I will take deeply to heart my friend Dr. Reid Cooper’s definition of faith: ‘the personal positive answer to the question whether life has meaning’.

Maybe Jorge Luis Borges was right; ‘any life however long and complicated it may be actually consists of a single moment when a man knows forever more who he is’. (NYR 11/12/19)

Maybe this is that moment.  Maybe I will turn around, receive a change of heart, and say…Yes.

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

Sunday
April 26

The Bach Experience

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the full service

1 Peter 1:17-23

Luke 24:13-25

Click here to hear just the sermon

The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill

There come episodes in the course of a battered lifetime that place us deep in the shadows.   If the shadow is dark enough, we may not feel able to move forward, for our foresight and insight and eyesight are so limited.  We may become bound, chained, held.   

Right now, if the view along an empty Commonwealth Avenue this morning is any clue, we are in the heart of such experience, deep and dark, today, surrounded by a swirling pandemic, which shows no immediate abatement.

You may have known this condition before, this condition—of confusion or disorientation or ennui or acedia.  You may know it still.  The death of a loved one can bring such a feeling.  The loss of a position or job can bring such a feeling.  The recognition of a major life mistake can bring such a feeling.  The recollection of a past loss can bring such a feeling.  The disappearance of a once radiant affection, or love, for a person or a cause or an institution can bring such a feeling.  And now, April 26, 2020, the shared experience of distance, of loss of rhythm, of disorientation not just distance, comes to mind in Sunday fullness.

And how to speak and think of these things? Over the years you may have grown frustrated by your own mother tongue in various ways.  English places such a fence between thought and feeling, when real thought is almost always deeply felt, and real feeling is almost always keenly thought.  We need another word like thoughtfeeling or feltthought.   Anyway, you, well beloved, by nature and discipline live the thoughtfeeling gospel, and for that we are lastingly thankful.

Be it then thought or feeling or thoughtfeeling, there do come episodes, all in a lifetime, that place us, if not in the dark, at least well into the shadows.  You may have known all about this at one time.  You may know it still.

Come Sunday, some snippet of song, or verse, or preachment, or prayer, or, especially today a line from the Cantata, it may be, will touch you as you meander about in the dim shadow twilight.  Hold onto that snippet.  Follow its contours along the cave of darkness in which you now move.  Let the snippet—song, verse, sermon, prayer, line—let it guide you along.  So you may be able to murmur: ‘I can do this…We can make our way…I can find a handhold or foothold…We can hope and even trust that the Lord heals the brokenhearted…I can make it for now, at least for now, for the time being.’   It is the power and role of beauty, verbal or musical or liturgical or communal, to restore us to our rightful mind, our right thoughtfeeling.

 Today the epistle, the Gospel and the psalm lift a hymn of faith, a song of courage in the face of adversity.   It is this lift for living which beauty, especially the beauty of holiness, and particularly, this morning, the beauty of holy music is meant to provide.  Here, at Marsh Chapel, right for a moment today, this Sunday, we want to accentuate Truth, for sure, and Goodness, for sure.  But we don’t want to leave behind beauty.  Beauty can heal.  In our work with demons.  In our quiet and contemplation.  Beauty, in the case of this morning, the beauty of Bach, often has the power to shake us loose, to set us free.  Or, at least, to give us grace in a grim time, grace in a viral time, grace in an anxious, depressive time, grace to get by.  To make us, as in Luke 24, not just followers but also witnesses. ‘They told what had happened on the road, and how he had been make known to them in the breaking of the bread’.

And on a personal note, I look forward with eager anticipation to the gathering up time, one fine day, when our congregation will not be remotely virtual, but beautifully, beautifully actual.  Like the psalmist, my soul longs and my heart cries out in the void and silence of this time of distance for the healing presence of the divine.  

Dr. Jarrett, how shall we listen, both on the radio and in person, most fully to be immersed in today’s Bach experience?

Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett

Bach’s cantatas take their names from the first line of text, and today’s cantata, No. 74 sets verse 23 of John 14: ‘Wer mich liebet, der wird mein Wort halten’ or Whoever loves me, and keeps my Word. Bach originally conceived of the cantata for use on Pentecost Sunday in 1725, where we find the Holy Spirit come down to ignite the movement among the Disciples that would become the Church. The Disciples and followers of Jesus had remained stunned, suspended in disbelief that their movement and leader had been cut down so devastatingly. Today’s lesson of Jesus’s appearance on the road to Emmaus finds the Disciples in the initial stages of their grief, no doubt deep in their own ‘thought-feeling’. 

Though a cantata for Pentecost, there is surprisingly little reference to the Holy Spirit, but rather a focus on Jesus’s promise to return, and that faith will create a dwelling for Him in our hearts. The cantata is rich with arias – four total. The first two arias are the more personal – almost a dialogue between the ardent believer and the reminder of the words of Jesus. These mutual assurances exchanged, the final two arias turn outward t the Church and beckon us to follow suit in making room for Jesus within our hearts. Both of these arias find their vigor with representations of the earthly trials each of us face in a life of faith, but also a reminder of the sufferings Jesus himself endured. You can’t have a Bach cantata without a reminder of the Passion and the snares of Sin, afterall. 

Musically speaking, Cantata 74 is many things. The opening movement is unified by the motive of the first words, rather than a Chorale tune defining a structure. And for a movement with festival trumpets and timpani, the bluster is replaced with elegance and confidence of stride. At the outset there seems an error in order or at least an imbalance of arias and recitatives, but there is a clear internal structure that features a single recitative between each of the two aria groupings. Those two recitatives serve as musical and theological connectors to the arias on either side.

Within these eight movements, we hear extraordinary variety from Bach, from the winsome Soprano solo, and anxious Bass continuo aria that hints at our own doubt of Jesus’ promise, to the Tenor aria that nearly takes flight, and the blazing bravura of the final Alto aria. Here we have musical and theological reminders of both Penance and Atonement, but also the assurance of Love and Grace.

And on a personal note, as we enter our seventh week of disciplined societal distance from one another, I, like those disciples, remain stunned and stunted by the loss of contact with the divine. For me, that divine contact happens when we make music together, our nobler selves revealed enjoined in the grace of music’s art. Like the psalmist, my soul longs and my heart cries out in the void and silence of this distance for the healing presence of the divine.

Dean Hill: Our Gospel lesson from Luke, brought as an interlude into our yearly reading of Matthew, reminds us of the healing power in ordered worship.  First, in a recitation of the gospel.  Second, in an interpretation of that Gospel.  Third, in a communal engagement of the gospel, in the common bread of the church, in the common cup of the church, in the common life of the church.  ‘They knew him in the breaking of the bread.’  For some, the emphasis will fall on the knowing; for others, the emphasis will fall on the thanksgiving, the Eucharistic bread broken.  For some, the what.  For others, the how.  For all, come Sunday, come this Lord’s day, the possibility of new life, even if dimly perceived, even if shadowed.

Dr. Jarrett: For those, that is, who have walked past a graveyard or two, for those who have walked the valley of the shadow of death, for a world searching for enough common ground to allow a common hope, for a nation reeling from a winter and spring of worry and loss, for you today if you are in trouble, and who are worried today about others and other graves and other yards, and who have seen the hidden viral traps, the unforeseeable viral dangers, and steel jawed viral snares of life, there is something encouraging about this Easter song:  “They knew him in the breaking of the bread”

Dean Hill: Emmaus Road brings a hymn of the heart, one you sing when you are not sure, but you are confident.  Not certain, but confident.  Not certain but confident.  You can be confident without being certain.  In fact, a genuine honest confidence includes the confidence to admit you are not sure.  Faith means risk.  Isn’t that part of what we mean by faith? If we had always certainty we would not need faith.  Once you are on the road, you have to choose between walking forward and slinking away.

Dr. Jarrett: For those today, for instance, trying hard to think through what the rest of 2020 might be like, those in the thick of unexpected transition, the Word has this support for you, the gift of the next step:  the gift of getting by, getting through, getting out, and getting home, not pausing to worry about the small stuff. This song is one for that point on the road when you just have to go ahead, not seeing yet too far down the road.  You are not sure.  But you sense a presence, and receive the courage to take one more step.

Dean Hill: Step forward.  Go about your discipleship:  pray, study, learn, make peace, love your neighbor, agree to disagree agreeably, let everyone be convinced in his own mind.  The random remains random.  We shall face our challenges in our time.  We shall face a common illness, infection and virus with a common faith, a common hope and a common love.  Just this:  we need not face them alone, but in the company of the Gospel, and its interpretation, and its community engaged together, one day in Eucharist, say, one day in music, say, one day in service, say, but every day with an uncanny sense of the presence of One Risen.

Dean Hill and Dr. Jarrett: In the name of the Resurrected Son, and of the Creating Father, and of the Abiding Spirit:  Now with the mind of Christ set us on fire, that unity may be our great desire.  Give joy and peace, give faith to hear your call, and readiness in each to work for all.

The Reverend Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean of Marsh Chapel

-Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music

Sunday
February 9

The Bach Experience

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the full service

1 Corinthians 2:1-12

Matthew 5:13-20

Click here to hear just the sermon

The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill

In the reading and hearing of the day’s Scripture we are given a word of encouragement and a look to the future.

We can appreciate both the word and the look, surrounded as we are every day with the unexpected consequences of sin, the unexpected news of illness and death, and the unexpected threats that come from feelings of loss and meaninglessness.

Together we are followers of Jesus.  We may follow from a long way off, but we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.  Together we work to develop disciples, in the heart of the city and in the service of the city.   And being a disciple is a matter of the heart.   Coming to Jesus may not be a matter of a moment or a day.  It may not be caused by lightening or earthquake.  It may not be from a command that is as plain as the nose on your face.  But it is always a matter of the heart.

Now St Matthew has imagined for his church and for the church of all time a great scene. Followed by many, both disciples and future disciples, Jesus ascends a mountain.  Like John Brown ensconced in the Adirondacks, like Moses up on Mt. Nebo, like the Jewish heroes at Masada, Jesus takes to the high peak, and as is the custom, he sits to teach.  His words are as fresh and pure this morning as they have been for nearly 2000 years.

He offers us a word of encouragement and a look to the future.

You are the salt of the earth.  You are the light of the world.

The most striking feature of this utterance is that it is spoken to and for a community.  The you is plural—you all.  Or as it is said of the plural of you all in the south—all you all.  This is a word for the church, the body of Christ.  For you—for all you all.  You can be salt—but not on your own. You can be light—but not by yourself.  You can be a disciple of Christ—but not free-lance.  There are no free-lance Christians.  Jesus encourages the community of disciples.  And his images that follow are common:  a city, a house, all people.  That which banishes the darkness of fear and loneliness is light.  That which redeems the rotten blandness of selfishness is salt.  Light and salt are found in community.  The most striking feature of this teaching is that it is spoken to and for–a community.

The second most striking feature of this utterance is its breadth and depth.  You—all you all—are salt and light of—what?  Your mind? One family? A school or church or two? No.  You are the salt of the EARTH and the light of the WORLD.  Let your light shine before ALL HUMANS!  A community that is salt and light is deep and wide.  Our church is at the heart of Boston and heard around the world.  After all, this is a mountain top word.  It is meant for the whole community.  This is a word of encouragement and a look to the future, for a church at the heart of the community.  When we plan and dream at Marsh we try to think world-wide and a half century deep.

One of the winds beneath our wings comes from our music ministry.  Yes, at Christmas and Easter, on Communion Sundays, for special University services like Matriculation and Baccalaureate and Martin Luther King Sunday, but also, and notably so for us, on our twice a term Bach Sundays.  The word and music of these days keep us moving forward together, salt and light.

Dr. Jarrett, what should we listen for in our cantata this Lord’s day?

Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett

Well, just as you’ve predicted for us Dean Hill, today’s cantata as with our scripture lessons offers a word of encouragement and a look to the future. As we have in past surveys, we are studying and performing the works Bach wrote for a specific occasion – liturgical or temporal. This year surveys four cantatas Bach wrote for New Year’s Day. Cantata 16 – Herr Gott, dich loben wir, follows a now familiar path in both libretto and design. Bach’s librettist features from the outset an excerpt of the famous Te Deum hymn, known to have been sung at the start of the new year. In the opening movement, you’ll hear four lines from the Te Deum set like a chorale tune in long notes in the soprano part. The lower three parts have a much more active part that proceeds without instrumental breaks or interludes. All the vocal parts are doubled by a member of the orchestra, except the first violins have an entirely independent part adding a fifth voice to the otherwise four part texture.

The opening of the cantatas is of interest to me: it’s as if Bach begins in the third or fourth measure of the piece In material we would characterize as episodic. It’s as if a melody has already been played and we enter immediately into motivic development. Or, were it not for the episodic material, we might expect this to be a delicate aria accompanied by continue only.

Similarly the opening movement comes to a close somewhat suddenly without closing ritornello and on a half-cadence –a sense of a grand pause. A secco recitative ensues sung by the Bass, drawing us from the ancient hymn, sung throughout the centuries, to the present moment with none other than a word of encouragement and a look to the future: “What have you not done, O god, since time began for our Salvation? And how much does thy breast still perceive of thy love and faith? And should we not sing in fervent love? Therefore, a new song sing out!”

The old modal hymn that ambled along in the first movement, erupts into a joyful chorus in C major with full chorus in full acclamation: “God’s goodness and faith is renewed each morning.” A word of encouragement, a look to the future.

With the conclusion of this extended, tri-partite opening, we take inward turn. The alto steps forward to offer a prayer for God’s blessing in the new year, as he enjoins us to place our trust and faith in Christ Jesus. This is the first mention of Jesus in the cantata, and it parallels and invites the inward turn toward soul-searching and personal reflection. In such proximity to Jesus’s name day and presentation in the temple, the theological image of Jesus living in the hearts of all believers is close at hand: “Beloved Jesus, thou alone shall be my Soul’s wealth. We shall, therefore, before other riches enthrone Thee in our faithful Heart.”

Though this shift inward toward Jesus might seem late in the canata – the next to last movement – at seven minutes, this rumination balances the opening movements taken together. The aria itself is score for tenor, continuo, and either violetta or oboe da caccia. Though the music is written in 3-4 time, Bach confuses the meter and placement of the downbeat often enough, that the longer line. The Cantata concludes with a four part chorale setting Bach had used two days before to conclude Cantata 28.

So how do we account for this? Here we skate toward the thinner ice of speculation and conjecture,

The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill

But worship alone, even when shot through with glorious music as today, is not enough, alone,  for salt and light.   For love there need to be places to love one another.   Every Sunday morning here we host ten or so smaller groups.  Here is a morning study group.  Here is a circle of student interns.  Here is the Marsh choir.  Here is the Thurman choir.  Here is Take Note—take note!  Here is the intercessory prayer assembly, quiet before worship.  Here is a children’s room.  Here is a luncheon or coffee following worship.  Here is a Bible Study following worship.  Here is a mission group, Abolitionist Chapel.  Here is a group heading out to visit shut-ins and nursing home.  For salt not to lose its savor, and for light not to grow dim, there need to be places and spaces for nourishment.

This takes commitment.  It takes investment.  You cannot have that kind of fellowship or friendship in a six-week seminar.  It takes a lifetime of prayer and study and searching the Scriptures.

Now I know we have many of our own questions about the Bible, and they are good ones.  Did David write the Psalms?  Was Jesus born in December?  Does Paul condemn slavery in Philemon?  And so on.  Good for us.

But today somewhat beside the point.

Growth in Christ comes not from our questions about the Bible, but from the Bible’s questions about us.

*Have you reckoned with the shortness of life?  Psalm 90

*Have you lead a life worthy of God?  Ephesians 4

*Have you earnestly sought the higher gifts?  1 Cor 12

*Have you reckoned with the real force of evil and

the strength of the final enemy?    1 Cor 15

*Do you tithe?  Do you share your faith?   Mal 2

*How does your generation’s character compare to others? Matt 28

In antiquity it was Diognetus who loved the passage about salt and light.  Around 130 ad he wrote of the people of salt and light.  He is speaking of you, you all, all you all:

They display to us their wonderful and paradoxical way of life.

They dwell in their own countries, but merely as sojourners.

Every foreign land is to them their native country.

And yet their land of birth is a land of strangers.

They marry and beget children, but they do not destroy their offspring.

They have a common table, but not a common bed.

They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh.

They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven

When reviled, they bless.

When insulted, they show honor.

When punished, they rejoice.

What the soul is to the body, they are to the world.

What salt is to earth and light is to world are you to this county, this region.  You are the salt of the earth.  You are the light of the world.

                        Sursum corda!  Lift up your hearts!

-The Reverend Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean of Marsh Chapel

Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music

Sunday
November 10

The Bach Experience

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the full service

2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17

Luke 20:27-38

Click here to hear just the sermon

The text of this sermon will be added as soon as possible.

Sunday
September 29

The Bach Experience

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the full service

Jeremiah 32:1-3, 6-15

Luke 16:19-31

Click here to hear just the sermon

Exegesis

The beauty of the music this morning is itself a sort of baptism.  We sometimes long to take a spiritual shower, to bathe ourselves in the living waters of grace, faith, hope, life, and love.   Especially, it might be stressed, on any college campus today, the need for spiritual cleansing in the midst of sub cultural murkiness, is continual.  We need both judgment and mercy, both honesty and kindness, both prophetic upbraid and parabolic uplift.  And we get them, thanks be to God, in Jeremiah and in Luke.  But look!  They come upside down.  In a stunning reversal, kindness and gentle hope are the hallmarks of our passage from Jeremiah, while wrath and hellfire explode out of Luke.

Listen again to the voice of the prophet, one of the great, strange voices in all of history and life, one of the great, strange voices, in all of Holy Writ.  Jeremiah.  All is lost, in Judah, as Jeremiah addresses Zedekiah the King.  You will be a slave in Babylon, King Zedekiah.  You will be given into the hand of your sworn, mortal enemy, and so too will be the fate of your city, your temple, your people, and your country, King Zedekiah.  BUT.  NONETHELESS. AND YET.  These are resurrection words.  BUT. NONETHELESS. NEVERTHELESS.  STILL.  EVEN SO.  And Jeremiah put his money where his mouth is.  Or was.

In this season of cultural demise and decay across our country, we benefit from the harsh challenge of Luke, and we benefit from the hopeful promise in Jeremiah.  You see there is more Luke in Jeremiah than at first you think, and there is more Jeremiah in Luke than at first you think.

Sin is not doing concrete deeds of generous kindness. Sin is the not doing concrete deeds of generous kindness.   Of all the Gospels, St. Luke most emphasizes this:  in the sermon on the plain; in the wording of the Lord’s prayer; in the parables of Sower, Samaritan, Lost Sheep, Lost Coin, Lost Son, Dishonest Steward, Guests to the Wedding Banquet, the 10 healed Lepers; in the communal interest extended to Samaritans (those of different ethnic and religious background), to women (those whom tradition has marginalized), to the poor (those left forgotten in transaction and acquisition, to the lepers (those ritually and culturally excluded).  To read Luke is to be given eyes to see by contrast abroad in America today an emerging culture of denigration–denigration of immigrants, Muslims, and Mexicans–and to weep.  It is not enough, though it is true enough, to blame this almost exclusively on one particular candidate and one particular party. (repeat).  No, the mirror is held up for us all, for all of us in some measure have contributed to a culture that is uncultured, a rhetoric that is rancorous, a politics that is impolitic, an increasingly uncivil civil society, a rejection of hard-won experience and preparation in favor of careless entertainment and tomfoolery, a preference for cruelty over beauty, and a robust willingness to throw away hundreds of years of painstakingly crafted institutional commitments and social norms. You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but cannot fool all of the people all of the time.  Will Lincoln’s proverb hold in our time? You may well hope so, though you may well doubt so.  I doubt it.  Finally, as Jeremiah looks upon Zedekiah, we confess, we get the leaders we deserve.

More personally, in the Methodist tradition which built Boston University, other than worship and the study of Scripture, the most cherished practice of faith is tithing:  annually giving away 10% of what you earn.  The reason for the centrality of tithing—today, sadly, honored largely in the breach, even in Methodism, now, to our shame—is set for us in today’s harsh parable of Lazarus and Dives, the harrowing horror of what it means to forget the needs of the poor.  Such forgetfulness is a persistent threat in the heart of all human life, but is especially challenging for those who have much, and so are sheltered, routinely, from the anxiety of poverty, the hurt of exclusion, the pain of hunger, and the despair of lack and loss.   Sin is the unwillingness on a weekly basis to practice generous kindness, to tithe.  Luke reminds us so.

And Jeremiah?  Now that his beloved country is in ruins (are we beginning across our own cultural landscape to catch a glimpse of his woe?), Jeremiah does something great.  Remember:  the city is burned, the temple is wrecked, the population is slaughtered or in chains, and the nation is destroyed, soon to spend two generations in Babylon, by the rivers of Babylon, where to sit down and weep, as tormentors mock, ‘sing to us one of the songs of Zion’.  But Jeremiah buys a plot of land.  One day, a long time from now, he muses and prays, there will be some manner of restoration: ‘I cannot see it.  I cannot hear it.  I cannot prove it.  Sometimes I cannot believe it.  But, hoping against hope, I will buy some land, and someday, somebody, somehow will use it’.  This is faith:  to plant trees under which you will not sleep, to build churches in which you will not worship, to create schools in which you will not study, to teach students whose futures you will not know—and to buy land which you will not till.  But someone will.  Or at least, that is your hope.  That is why, as darkness is falling across a confused, frightened, and benighted land, you have done some things this year.  You offered a morning prayer.  Good for you.  You sent a check to support some leader or candidate.  Good for you.  You went and volunteered to make contacts and calls. Good for you.  You spoke up and spoke out, regardless of the fan mail, family disdain, and other costs.  You did something.  Will it make a difference?  It may not.  But it does make a difference, for you, if for no one else.  Go and buy your little plot of land.

Explanation

For more than a decade, Music at Marsh Chapel has cultivated our own little plot of land – the rich and fertile soil of the vocal works of Johann Sebastian Bach. The endeavor around the recreation of this extraordinary repertoire by our players and singers is its own form activism, faith, tithe, and over time and shared commitment, Jeremiah might even behold restoration.

This year’s cantata series explores four works Bach composed for New Year’s Day. At the highest altitude, these are joyful and celebratory cantatas — at least in the outer movements. To be sure, the inner movements can be counted on to remind us of our sin at some point. Today’s cantata – No. 41 ‘Jesu, nun sei gepreiset’ or Jesus, now be praised, numbers among the great Chorale Cantatas from Bach’s second annual cycle of cantatas in Leipzig. In these remarkable works, the great hymns of the faith – Chorales – are the Alpha and Omega. Today’s cantata sets the outer verses of Johann Herman’s 1593 text exactly in the opening and closing movements, while paraphrasing the inner verse of the chorale in the arias and recitatives within the cantata.

The passing of the old year and the welcoming of the New Year takes on various dimensions for each of us, and for Bach and his congregation, they were reminded that as the Old Year is analogous to the Old Testament, the New Year reveals the hope of resurrection from the New Testament — Law and Grace. And perhaps a more obvious temporal analogy, our mortal life on earth is the old year that passes, and the New Year represents our hopes for the life eternal. For this reason, the central text offers a prayer for mercy and salvation upon the believer’s death. Finally, the bass soloist reminds us that this mortal life is constantly thwarted and threatened by Satan’s works, potentially jeopardizing our hope for life in eternity, the New Year of our soul.

Musically, this cantata is extraordinarily rich in invention and detail from the first measure to the last. For the central aria, our principal cellist Guy Fishman plays a five-stringed cello called a Cello Piccolo with music that seems to depict our earthly toil in sincere and honest strains of remarkable difficulty. And the joyful soprano aria heard immediately following the opening choral movement features dance rhythms and a choir of merry oboes.

However, nothing can sufficiently prepare the listener for the glorious opening movement. The chorale is faithfully rendered in long tones in the soprano part with truly astonishing invention all around. Here Bach gives us bold concertante writing in the latest style (think New Year) with the final two lines set in the old contrapuntal or fugal style, before recasting those lines to the new music. Truly a dialectic of old and new styles transformed by their relation to one another.

As academic communities at schools and colleges throughout the country commence a new year this month, they too engage in this dialectic of the hope of new beginnings forged in the knowledge and wisdom of those who have gone before. And of those who have gone before, few surpass Bach’s capacity to reveal new heights and hopes for our daily strivings and our future together.

Application

You may want and need to shift your perspective, to alter your angle of vision, to see things from even higher ground.  Some measure of health or salvation, or mental sanitation may require it.

The Matterhorn is the most beautiful mountain on our planet.  Today, the beautiful, tomorrow, the true, the next day, the good.  An excellent view of the majestic Alpine peak may be found in Zermatt.  If and as memory serves, you can drive to Zermatt—rent an old deux chaveaux—a pristine Alpine village, snow laden in the summer, its shops and hostels wind swept and well kept.  The view from Zermatt is fine.  You can share it in physical comfort and communal fellowship. The Matterhorn!  Just before you.

There is, though, a better view, for which though you will need to shift your perspective, to alter your angel of vision, to change your location, in order to see things from even higher ground.  High up to the southeast, in the craggy mountain cliffs, there is, farther up, the small hamlet of Gornergrat.  To get up there, if memory serves, you must take an open air, chair by chair, chain rail car, ascending at 45 degrees, up and up, and on up, nearer to the summit, and far closer to your ideal, aspirational vies of beauty.  Or truth.  Or goodness.  Acrophobics need not apply.

The ride is short but terrifying.  At the top, mid-July, thick snow, hard ice, brisk wind and a coldness of cold await you.  As does the mesmerizing thrall of the mountain.  The Matterhorn.  Step gingerly out of the old open rail car.  Get your footing, your mountain sea legs.  Raise your gaze.  Raise your gaze.  Raise your gaze.  There.  A new way of seeing, and so of thinking, and so, then of being.  Health and sanity may impel or compel you to higher ground.

My sixteenth book will be published this fall, a collection devoted in part to the New Testament, in part to preaching, and in part to ministry—Bible, Church, World as we in the halcyon younger days of the World Council of Churches intoned.  None of the sixteen is a best seller, none a game changer, none found in every home.  All but two are still in print, and several in both print and cyber forms.  They are the work of Zermatt.  Fine.  The view from Zermatt is fine.  You can share it in physical comfort and communal fellowship.  The Matterhorn!  Just before you.  But.  But.  But.

As an acrophobe the rail car ride up is not appealing.  But it is time for me to move on up, to take higher ground, to climb on to Gornergrat.  Ice.  Snow. Cold. Wind.  That means the prospect of one more, a very different book, for a very different look.  A different look takes a different book.  It will be, here, for me, the work of the next decade, in pulpit and study.  As you cannot get to Gornergrat but through Zermatt, this project depends in full on all that came before:  books on the New Testament (John), on preaching (Interpretation), and on ministry (prayer and practice).  The next climb is up on to craggy cliff village—ice, snow, cold, wind—of an overture to A Liberal Biblical Theology.   Here is a marriage of Rudolph Bultmann and N.T. Wright., a partnership of Paul Tillich and (the early) Karl Barth, an aspirational possibilist (that is Methodist) correlation of history and theology, Bible and Church, accessible to the average reader.  Our climate, nation, and denomination, all in peril, hang in the balance.

Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music

-The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean of Marsh Chapel