Posts Tagged ‘Bach Experience’

The Bach Experience

Sunday, April 17th, 2016

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John 10:22-30

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Dean Hill

So let us keep the festival whereto the Lord invites us; Christ is himself the joy of all, the Sun that warms and lights us.  By his grace he doth impart eternal sunshine to the heart; the night of sin is ended.  Alleluia!  (So wrote Martin Luther in 1524).

You will see down the street a block, outside the BU Academy, a new photograph commending the Academy.  A young woman, with face upturned, radiantly smiles and casts a long look, eyes beaming, into an unseen future.  It is a striking, even staggering image, the look of Easter.  Behold there the look of promise, hope, freedom, openness, courage, excitement, joy, and peace.

Lent is for preparation and discipline in living.  Easter is for living.  We are not meant to live in Lent.  We are meant to live in Easter.   For this reason itself and alone, it will have been excellent practice for us to have heard all Easter cantatas all year, here at Marsh Chapel, where we are blessed with the finest University Chapel music anywhere in the country.   Your life is made for and meant for and marked for meaningful freedom, joyful growth, loving service, and personal peace.  You are a child of God, one for whom Christ died, and in whom His resurrection is intended to dwell.  If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, then you will be saved.  Confession is an act, uttered by the lips, and lived in the spirit.  Belief is a matter of the heart, embraced in the dark, and carried forward in the light.   

Think about the novelty of Marsh Chapel Community Ecclesiology, one of several ‘new ways of being church’.  You are in one sense‘The Church of the UnChurched (students, radio listeners, occasional attendees, those returning to faith, pod cast people, all)’.  God is doing a new thing.   You come Sunday, you listen Sunday.  Sunday opens the rest of the week for living.   Then you live in community and University in the three other ‘ships’, other than worship—discipleship, fellowship, and stewardship.  This wide berth of freedom can be a great challenge, but is also a magnificent gift, for those with ears to hear.  As WS Coffin so often said, ‘God gives us minimum protection and maximum support’.

Our Holy Scripture, the prototype of every type of struggle in life, breathes us life.

Psalm 23 forever proclaims a Good Shepherd, a shepherding goodness forever available, always possible, eternally present.  Goodness and mercy shall follow me, all the days of my life.  But such shepherding, incarnate, requires human time, effort, voices, notes and donations.

Acts 9—we still are reading Luke, but have jumped to the second season for a time, his full history, the Acts of the Apostles—accounts a dramatic healing, a raising like that of Lazarus, but this time at the hands of Peter, not of Jesus.   Our teacher reminded us that the one-to-one things are the most important, the personal things count most.  Tabitha!  Rise!  Please do not become lost in the mystery or magic of these multiple acts in Acts.  Here the Scripture attests strongly and simply to real healing, the potential for real help, in real time.

Revelation 7 begins with tribulation, suffering.  There will be a time, a place, a setting when the Shepherd will guide the thirsty to springs of living water, when the Shepherd will meet the sorrowful and wipe away every tear from their eyes, when the Shepherd will find the hungry and feed them all, when the Shepherd will embrace the thirsty and slake their thirst, when the Shepherd will wash with mercy and peace the robes of tribulation and suffering.   Now this is aspiration not actuality, right now.  We are hoping for what we do not see; we are seeing in a glass dimly; we are holding treasures in earthen vessels

John 10:22-30 makes audible the voice of the Shepherd, and so the sheep may know that voice, they may hear and they may know and they may follow.  This Spiritual Gospel of John is so lastingly redolent with the Divine Presence!  We are in good hands, and so we are able to bear one another’s burdens (H Smith).

John Wesley taught us: “Do all the good you can, at all the times you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can”….and… “Do you not know that God entrusted you with that money (all above what buys necessities for your families) to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to help the stranger, the widow, the fatherless; and, indeed, as far as it will go, to relieve the wants of all mankind? How can you, how dare you, defraud the Lord, by applying it to any other purpose?”

Dr. Jarrett, for what shall we listen, this Eastertide, as the beauty of Bach’s Cantata addresses us?

Dr. Jarrett

Our cantata this morning is one of the most famous in all Bach’s output. One of his earliest cantatas, Christ lag in Todesbanden, or Christ lay in Death’s Bonds, sets all seven verses of Martin Luther’s 1524 hymn in a remarkable display of invention and variation, within an overall symmetrical design of proportion and elegance so familiar to us from this composer.

The text depicts the epic battle of life over death, redemption versus destruction — the Paschal lamb roars as the Lion of Judah. Bach scored his cantata for strings only, including two viola lines, and achieves an astonishing degree of variety and color with such limited instrumental resources. Here are few things to listen for this morning:

  • Each verse ends with a refrain of Hallelujah. Note the variety and possibility of emotion explored with each of these refrains, from the frenetic energy of the first alla breve, the doleful Hallelujahs of the soprano and alto, the chorus’s scurrying refrain as the epic battle falls away; or the pealing, rounded Hallelujahs of the soprano and tenor in the final festive duet.
  • If you follow a translation or word book, note the opportunities to stay fixed visually, aurally, and theologically on the Cross. The Cross becomes the ultimate emblem of victory over sin.
  • In the central choral movement, listen for the fantastic depiction of the battle: soprano, tenor, and bass voices scrape and thrash around each as Death Gobbles Death in scathing mockery.

In many ways, Christ lag is the best connection of  the joy of Easter with the glory of Christ’s passion. The focus is not on the disciples, mourning the loss of their leader, nor is the focus on our human frailty clinging to the hem of Christ’s garment. The victory of the cross and the triumph of love is our theme, Christ as Victor.  

“So we celebrate the high festival with joy of heart and delight, which the Lord radiates upon us, He himself is the Sun, that through the splendor of his Grace illuminates our hearts completely, the night of sin has disappeared. Hallelujah!”

Dean Hill

The few Bach Easter works, as Mr. Kostrzewski reminds us, exude and exemplify ‘an air of humility that remains ever present, the music and the libretti constantly referring to the Passion as the gateway to the Resurrection’.  Yes.  The Resurrection follows but does not replace the Cross.  Luther: crux sola nostra teologia, the cross alone is our theology.  Mr. Wesley was converted to full faith under the hearing of Martin Luther’s exposition of Romans 8, on rainy Sunday evening in London, May 23, 1738.  We still live in two worlds.

We live in a glorious, wonderful world. There are at least 100 billion galaxies besides our own (NYRB, 3.16).  The universe is expanding, and the rate of that expansion is increasing.  Every second over 600 billion particles called neutrinos penetrate every square centimeter of your body. The visible universe is the sideshow:  the important stuff is invisible.  We live in a glorious, wonderful world.

We live in a suffering, violent world.  Examples abound. Dr. Jonathan Haidt ‘denies that reason ordinarily plays any part in motivating moral judgments, seeing it rather as a post-hoc means of justifying the intuitions we form quickly and unreflectively.’  He reminds us that we struggle with:  Care vs harm; fairness vs cheating; loyalty vs betrayal; authority vs subversion; sanctity vs degradation; liberty vs oppression.  Our world sometimes boils down to Hobbes’ single hope, during a life that is ‘solitary, nasty, poor, brutish and short’:  avoid conflict.  After 83 waterboardings of Abu Zubaydah, what was the result?—NOTHING.   70 million in USA have some form of criminal records (Globe 4/12/16). 30% of NFL players suffer dementia.  We live in a suffering, violent world.

Easter, in Gospel spoken and sung this morning, Easter in resurrection and cross, cross and resurrection, resurrection and cross, promises us that we can do what we need to do: we can live in both worlds, transforming the latter and translating the former, transforming suffering and violence by translating glory and wonder into insights for healthy, happy living.

In a season when our country seems to be going through a form of political and cultural psychosis, we may be able to help others by modeling together this balance, living in both worlds, with this Resurrection song, bell and tale: ‘The worst thing is not the last thing’ (F Beuchner).  The Marathon survivors in worship on Friday at Old South Church, so attested, and so heard in the sermon by former Governor Duval Patrick.  Balance.  As Pope Francis argued last month:  the conscience of the believer is inviolable, so we want to form consciences not replace them; Eucharist (say worship, say faith) is not a prize for the excellent, but nourishment for the weak.  Balance.  As Luther wrote, ‘faith holds the door against death’.

It was a strange and dreadful strife when life and death contended; the victory remained with life; the reign of death was ended.  Stripped of power, no more it reigns, and empty form alone remains; death’s sting is lost forever.  Alleluia!  (So wrote Martin Luther in 1524).

– The Reverend Doctor, Robert Allan Hill, Dean. & Dr. Scott Jarrett, Director of Music. 

The Bach Experience

Sunday, February 7th, 2016

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Luke 9: 28-36

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Lukan Mountain

Our apprehension of Bach’s cantatas this year highlights resurrection. The day of transfiguration is perfect for such an acclamation. It may be that Mark, first, and then Luke, following Mark some two decades later, entwined this marvelous and mysterious moment into the life of Jesus, when it had originally been an experience of his resurrection following Easter. It may have been replaced, or placed ahead, to argue that what the primitive Christians found in their own experience, and acclaimed in their own preaching, and felt in their own hearts had, here it is suggested, been known even in his lifetime, if only to a few, if only in the rarest settings, if only up on a mountain. ‘Many interpreters hold that the narrative was originally an account of an appearance of the Risen Christ to Peter James and John that has been moved forward and made an incident in the life of Jesus” (IBD loc cit.) Belief in Jesus’ Messiahship, it may be, grew out of belief in his resurrection. Whether pre or post Easter, then, the Transfiguration is either a premonition of resurrection or a recollection of resurrection, and both finely fit our music today. Resurrection is the preaching of the gospel of love, spoken and heard. The Gospel is the word and possibility of love in unloving, unlovely, love-deprived world. Resurrection is the experience of love divine, all loves excelling.

“We want to mark the places and preserve the moments where we have encountered God’ (Ringe, loc cit). On the mountain, on the mountain, on the mountain…

You are following Luke well this year. Notice how roundly he changes Mark, here, too. Notice Luke’s Additions: the admonition to pray; the use of the term exodus (departure); the allusion to coming death and ascension; Peter is heavy with sleep; Jesus called not rabbi but master; not my Beloved but my Chosen (not beloved); the reminder and explanation that the disciples kept silence (as in Mark’s messianic secret—an admission in a way that the story only emerged after the resurrection.)

The other alternative is Matthew, who copies Mark nearly word for word. No, Luke has gone his own way, and given us the Lukan view of Transfiguration, later than that of Mark, different from that of Mark, fuller than that of Mark. What do Luke’s additions amount to?

What others have seen and heard is meant to inspire us to see and hear, in prayer. Luke regularly and steadily supplements the narrative with additional moments of prayer. The most activist of the gospels is also the most passive, the most prayerful. Likewise, the whole ethos of exodus is emphasized in Luke. Yes, life is a journey. Yes, the journey of faith includes risk, distress, and pain. Yes, the sojourn in the wilderness is a cost of leaving the fleshpots of any Egypt, just as winter is the cost for summer. Then, Peter awakes (the KJV has it better). He wakes up to the Resurrected, who, for Luke is not merely teacher (rabbi) but master (Lord), a metamorphosis from Mark to Luke that is similar in shape to the internal metamorphosis in John alone. He is the Chosen, emphasizing purpose, intention, mission, and election—emphasizing the church. It is a rare titular depiction of Jesus—Chosen. Chosen from many? Chosen for reason? Chosen as a celebration of divine will? In favor of viewing this story as originally a remembered experience after the resurrection which has been transplanted into the life of Jesus to show that the experience of the church really did have historical antecedents is the explanation that know one really knew about this because the disciples kept the secret. Luke is settting things right for the long haul. Prayer to nourish for the long haul. Journey as a metaphor for struggle over the long haul. Lordship, a higher and hierarchical Savior, to strengthen weakened knees and souls for the long haul. The presence of the divine will, soon for Luke to emerge in the body of the Church, to guide all for the long haul. Luke advises us to be ‘in it for the long haul’ whatever ‘it’ is. Luke gives Divine confirmation of Jesus’ Messiahship. It places into the history of Jesus what the later church believed, believes, knew, and preached. See: even during his life a few people knew and saw what we know and see.

One wonders, Scott, how best to hear resurrection in today’s music?

Bach

When I read the stories of Jesus, I am constantly struck not by Jesus’s actions but by how the people around him react: I remember Simon when I think of Jesus in the temple; I remember Peter when I think of Jesus in Gethsemane; I weep with the beloved disciple and marvel with the Centurion when Jesus is on the cross; my own inner-Thomas is revealed when I hear of Jesus in Emmaus. And here, too, it’s not that Jesus enjoys a nice visit with Moses and Elijah while on a mountain hike, but rather that Peter misses the point, requiring the Lord to set him straight in a cloud. And then my mind wanders to the notion of God speaking through the fog of Cloud. Should I listen for God more on cloudy days??

Well, now I’m just like Peter on the mountain top, wandering and missing the point, and in my own sermon!

As Dean Hill mentioned in his opening, our series this year survey’s Bach’s musical sermons celebrating the Resurrection Story. Today’s Cantata, No 31 “Heaven laughs, Earth rejoices’ was written early in Bach’s career during his period in Weimar. He takes full advantage of Weimar’s instrumental possibilities and the literary gifts of resident poet Salomo Franck.

The structure of the Cantata may be understood in three distinct sections: The Resurrection Story retold by Chorus and Bass; The Charge to the Believer heralded by the Tenor; and finally, the Believer’s Affirmation of the Charge. And just as in the Biblical stories, we move quickly from Jesus’s resurrection to our own foibles and possibilities in relation to Jesus. The central images to watch and listen for are that of Vine and Branches; Tree of Life with limbs and branches; Christ as head, we as limbs; the cross as ladder to heaven; and, of course, the grave of sin. Typical of the theology and imagery of the time, our life on earth is depicted as the grave, a chamber of the sin of Adam’s inheritance. We eagerly await the final hour in which we shed the mortal coil of sin, and, through resurrection by the spirit, reach life everlasting, arms outstretched to the risen Savior at the gate of Heaven.

Musically speaking, brilliance is everywhere on display in our cantata today. Festival scoring for trumpets and drums, joyous opening sinfonia paired with a thrilling opening five part chorus, three diverse arias proving the composer’s gifts and skills, and a sublime and delicate final chorale with heavenly descant.

Once again, Bach brings us to a mountain top, his own Castle of Heaven. Bach’s music offers a glimpse of that moment when we, too, will be transformed, joining heaven’s angels in the radiant, joyous glow of Christ Jesus.

Today

                        The Shekinah, the cloud, the presence, on the mountain, shadows us today.   We want to bear that mystery in our present, in our person, do we not? Tittle: ‘as he faced the possibility of suffering and death his mind reverted to the great figures of Israel’s past…let us place ourselves under the influence of Christ and even we sill be transfigured…something of his glory will shine in our hearts and appear in our faces and show forth in our lives’.

The Shekinah, the cloud, the presence, on the mountain, shadows us today.   Sometimes, later in life, we realize what was going on, earlier in life. So, Robert Hayden, African American poet, in the line of Hughes, Baldwin, Ellison, and all, writes and remembers and rejoices. Here is a poem written by Hayden, remembering his youth and his father:

Sundays too my father got up early

And put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,

Then with cracked hands that ached

From labor in the weekday weather made

Banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.

When the rooms were warm, he’d call,

And slowly I would rise and dress

Fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,

Who had driven out the cold

And polished my good shoes as well.

What did I know of love’s austere and lonely offices?

(By Robert Hayden)

The Shekinah, the cloud, the presence, on the mountain, shadows us today.   The necessary freedom, and the disciplined grace, of Luke’s gospel firmly accosts us with the daily need, the daily task, the daily prospect, the daily adventure, the daily promise, the daily existential, lonely, windswept mountain top liberty of faith in the resurrection. Back at home, it may be, for those present this morning, or there at home, it may be, for those listening today there is transfiguration awaiting, a resurrection beckoning, a faith and gospel lying in hiding, ready for action. Write that letter. Sign that check. Make that call. Read that verse. Forget that hurt. Watch. Fight. Pray. Live rejoicing every day.

He comes to us as one unknown,

a breath unseen, unheard;

as though within a heart of stone,

or shriveled seed in darkness sown,

a pulse of being stirred.

He comes when souls in silence lie

and thoughts of day depart,

half-seen upon the inward eye,

a falling star across the sky

of night within the heart.

He comes to us in sound of seas,

the ocean’s fume and foam;

yet small and still upon the breeze,

a wind that stirs the tops of trees,

a voice to call us home.

He comes in love as once he came

by flesh and blood and birth;

to bear within our mortal frame

a life, a death, a saving name

for every child of earth. 

He comes in truth when faith is grown;

believed, obeyed, adored:

the Christ in all the scriptures shown,

as yet unseen, but not unknown,

our Savior, and our Lord.

(Powell)

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

& Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music

For more information about Marsh Chapel at Boston University, click here.

For information about donating to the Chapel, click here.

The Bach Experience

Sunday, November 15th, 2015

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Mark 13:1-8

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Dr. Neville

Dr. Jarrett, Bach’s cantata, “Bleib bei uns,” or “Stay with us,” worries a very old theme, the need for light.  It is hard to think of a time when the troubles call for light more than now.  The incomprehensible violence, the tragic deaths of innocents, the rage that knows no containment, of the Paris terrorist attacks has cast the world in darkness.  They were acts of war by a regime that does not distinguish its politics from religion, though by no means are those acts of war condoned by other Muslim regimes.  Will France of necessity declare war on the Islamic State?  How can that war be fought if the Islamic State soldiers live among people whom they have conquered?  Will NATO go to the aid of France?  Will the US? How can our Middle Eastern neighbors in Europe and the US not be under suspicion? Will such suspicion turn friends into enemies?  These are political and moral problems.  But the depths of the troubles press against the limits of our very being and so these are religious problems, for all sides, including us.  Where is the light in these increasingly dark times?

The metaphor of light arises on the first page of the Bible, as the very first thing God says: “Let there be light.” And there was light.  This implies that darkness is the primordial, the aboriginal, situation.  The narrative also implies that prior to speaking, God is just part of the darkness.  Presumably God could have eliminated the darkness altogether, but instead arranged the light and darkness in the alternation of day and night.  So darkness is always with us or just around the corner.

In biblical times there was much debate among both Jews and Christians over whether God and God’s speech are one thing or two.  On the one hand, in the human analogy we ordinarily say that a speaker and the speaker’s speech are one; a human being is an agent or actor and speaking is one kind of acting.  Perhaps we can conceive of God on the analogy of such an agent, existing in some sense in the darkness before light as an agent ready and able to speak, but just not yet.  The difficulty with this analogy is that the creation of the world, beginning with light distinguished from darkness, is such a vast change that it is difficult to think of God as an agent at all without some equally primordial world to work on.  God is radically changed by becoming a speaking God whose first words create light.

On the other hand, many people have allowed that there are two things, God not speaking prior to creation, and the divine Word that comes into being as God speaks and in fact structures the whole of creation.  This view was elaborated in the sayings of Lady Wisdom in the book of Proverbs, who affirmed that she was present with God at the creation but complained that people did not pay enough attention to her and did not live in the light of God’s creative Word, which had moral connotations.  The Prologue to the Gospel of John lays this out in a familiar way: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”  (John 1:1-5)  According to John, Jesus was the incarnation of the original divine Word spoken by God in creation and the condition for all things created, a Word characterized as light.  The Word of God came into being as God spoke it in creation; it was phrased for human beings in the Sinai covenant, though too many people rejected it; it was present in common sense as Lady Wisdom, but too many people ignored it. So then God caused this Word to become incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth.  This is the foundation of John’s theology, and it generally won the day in Christian theology overall.  To say that Jesus is the Light of the World, in the sense Bach’s libretto meant it, is to say that he is the embodiment of the divine Word in creation that begins by saying “Let there be light.”

Dr. Jarrett, Bach seems to buy into this identification of Jesus with the Light of creation, although in our cantata there still seems to be a troubling darkness for which the Light of Christ needs yet to cover.  Is this right?

Dr. Jarrett

The second in our series of Easter cantatas is “Bleib bei uns, denn es will Abend werden” – ‘Stay with us, for evening comes.’ Scored for choirs of oboes, strings, and voices, Bleib bei uns draws both title and subject from the 24th Chapter of Luke in which Jesus appears to a group of disciples on the road to Emmaus.

As we have come to expect from Bach, the full range of human experience and emotion is everywhere explored and considered. And, as much as Bach acknowledges human frailty, the doubt of our conviction, and the daily crisis of faith, he provides clear paths for musical and theological reconciliation. Consider the Bach passion settings – in particular, the St Matthew Passion which we perform later this year in February – Bach provides an astonishingly accurate mirror of our human circumstance. He knows how each day, we become Judas, or a Peter, or a Pilate. In today’s cantata, we connect instantly with the hapless disciples who encounter Jesus on the road to Emmaus. Stricken with grief that their leader has been tragically cut down in the events just days before in Jerusalem, their eyes remain blind to the true identity of Jesus until he breaks bread with them – a theological reminder of Christ’s presence in the sacrament.

But references to the Luke 24 story remain allegorical in Bach’s 1725 cantata for the second day of Easter. Here, Bach focuses on the sadness, fear, and even anxiety at the loss of Jesus. In a sense, Bach connects us to the end of the John Passion as Jesus has been laid to rest in the tomb. With sarabande rhythms and a melancholy C Minor, the final chorus ‘Ruht wohl’ lays an elegiac garland on the heavy tomb stone. In cantata 6, the same C Minor music reveals the crisis of loss with low pulsing string parts, all of which yields to a frenetic fugue depicting both the disarray of the Jesus movement, but also our growing fear as darkness encloses.

The progression of arias begins with a courtly petition for Christ to stay longer. With alto oboe and alto singer, the entreaty is marked by both an upward ascent in the vocal line to accompany the text ‘highly praised’ and descending whole-tones to depict the encroaching darkness.

The central aria is a chorale setting, reminding us that Word and Sacrament are, indeed, the light. And the final aria, scored for tenor and strings, reminds us that the image of Christ and his passion are the surest way to avoid the pathways of sin.

The theology, of course, is that even though Jesus ascends to heaven, having fulfilled the prophesy, we are shored up by the Holy Spirit, and the promise of Jesus’s return. But the challenge of daily faith is very difficult without the true presence of Jesus. How will we continue? How can we remain Christ-like in our living without his daily presence? The answer is the renewal, affirmation, and cleansing purity of word and table, table and word.

Though we perform an Easter cantata today, the extraordinary need for the light of Christ to dispel the gloom and shroud of sin, calls us to an advent penitence. In the timeless words of the Psalmist: Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.

Dr. Neville

Yet we seem to have little light for our path these days.  This is why it is so important continually to advert to those things that bear the light, even in dark times.  The sacrament of the table habituates us to gratitude and hope, even when we don’t pay it much attention.  The Word in scripture, in preaching, and of course in the founding structure of the world solicits our attention to the important things even when it is obscurely understood, mumbled, and apparently incoherent.  What are the important things in a crisis riding on blind terrorism?  To remember that our first thought about enemies is that they need to be loved by us.  To be kind always, which includes sharing the grief of those under attack.  To contain rage with disciplined moderation.  To insist, against all our darkened passions, that moral and religious judgment belongs only to God.  To understand that what little light we have allows us only fallible plans and purposes in matters of war and peace.  To wait in hope for the joy that comes in the morning when the light of creation dawns again.  Amen.

–Rev. Dr. Robert Neville, Professor of Philosophy, Religion, and Theology, Boston University

–Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music, Marsh Chapel

For more information about Marsh Chapel at Boston University, click here.

For information about donating to the Chapel, click here.

The Bach Experience

Sunday, September 27th, 2015

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James 5:13-20

Mark 9:38-50

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Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill

Dr. Jarrett.

(Dean Hill)

Dr. Jarrett.

Alumni Weekend itself is a two level drama, a stereoptic, bifocal collision of past and present, of hope and fear, of what we expect on the one hand, and what we experience on the other, expectation and experience never quite becoming equivalents.

On Alumni Weekend you walk past a classroom where you heard something new. As was once said by a famous baseball player, ‘It’s déjà vu all over again’. You see a teacher’s office where you learned the hard news about a midterm result. You pass by a tree under which you hugged or kissed your then boyfriend or girlfriend.   Your memory is quickened by the spatial, locational power of a sunset on a river, or a trolley bell ringing, or the crack of the bat and the roar of the crowd. You watch and you see.

As Yogi Berra also said, ‘You can observe a lot just by watching’.

But all these memories are held in a new way, in a second level recollection, that of today as today looks at yesterday.   You enter a restaurant and where others simply see a television, you see a television on which you watched and heard 7th BU President John Silber interviewed in 1980 on 60 minutes by Mike Wallace. You look out over Nickerson field while others watch soccer, and you remember a football game. (Oops…). You sit in Marsh Chapel as the sermon meanders on toward its inevitable conclusion, or what you hope will be its proximate conclusion, but you hear some other voice once uttered here, or a song once sung here, or a prayer once dropped with a full heart into the prayer request box.

Three honored alumni yesterday spoke in this manner. ‘BU became my passport’. ‘At BU I grew up’. ‘Here I was taught that the authority of the highest idea should prevail over the idea of the highest authority’. (Not who has the idea, but what idea is best; not power but truth.)

Time and space are not quite as absolute in determination of our being as sometimes we think. It helps to have a bifocal, stereoptic 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: Syria—200,000 dead, 4 million refugees, 7 million dislocated. Its word sings with a divine voice: each one of these is a child of the living God.

(By the way, the apocalyptic warnings of Mark 9 are not to be taken literally. We know this. We know about hyperbole. Even the convoluted hyperbole of a famous ballplayer describing a once favorite restaurant: ‘Nobody goes there any more—it’s too crowded’. Let us pause one good moment to recognize that, and why, we do not understand the Bible as utterly inerrant and divine. 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 25 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, that begins its life as an ornament of secular gaiety, that began its life as music by which to feast and dance and revel. It began as joy. And then it was transformed, so that ‘our joy could be complete’ (Jn 15:11).

Charles Wesley wrote hymns, many of which we still sing, and found the music, the melodies and harmonies, in the sung music of his day, did he not? St John of the Cross, the greatest of Spanish mystics, whose poetry strikes the heart to this day, composed his lyrics with the help of Italian, pastoral love poetry, did he not? The author of the Song of Solomon, who wrote a torrid, fierce, erotic ballad of human of love, would perhaps have been bemused to see how quickly Judaism made of it by analogy the love of God for the covenant people, and how quickly Christianity by analogy made of it the love of Christ for his church, we she not?

In our time, wherein the attempt to embrace the secular with the sacred, to express a faith amenable to culture and a culture amenable to faith, to unite the pair so long disjoined, knowledge and vital piety, has become so marginal, pitiable, nearly a lost cause, of a sudden, this Sunday, Come Sunday, we have Bach’s secular music magically, alchemically made sacred, in this beautiful 18 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

Dean Hill.

(Dr. Jarrett)

Dean Hill….

This year at Marsh Chapel, our annual cantata series surveys Bach’s musical-sermons for Easter, beginning today with Cantata 66: ‘Rejoice, you hearts, fade away, you sorrows.’ Our cantata dates from Bach’s first year as Cantor of the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, a period of remarkable industry and accomplishment. Bach’s greatest achievement in those weeks was surely the composition and first performance of the St John Passion heard just days before the cantata we perform this morning. For Easter Sunday morning that year, Bach revived an earlier work – Christ lag in Todes Banden, which we will perform later in this series. For Easter Monday, he again drew on earlier material, written in 1718 for the birthday celebrations of Prince Leopold of Cöthen. With a reordering of movements, the addition of a final chorale, and fitted with a new text, the resultant cantata marks the splendor of Easter with great joy, dance, and, as we shall see, no shortage of the human dialectic – hope and fear.

Bach’s text was the story of Jesus’s appearance to the disciples on the road to Emmaus from the 24th chapter of Luke. As you’ll recall, the story depicts some fairly thick-headed disciples, in shock over the fate of their Jesus rebellion, and still grief-stricken from his betrayal and ultimate demise. Only when the traveler breaks bread with them do they realize he is their risen Lord.

Marsh Chapel congregants have come to understand that the cantatas, just like sermons, follow a structure, not just musically – choruses, recitatives, arias, and chorales – but also theologically: from opening an chorus of praise and joy, to more explicit exegesis from soloists, moving toward reflection on the human condition both personal and corporate. Typically, the cantata concludes with a four-part chorale setting attaching the newly composed music to cherished and beloved hymns of the faith.

The key element of the older cantata from 1718 was a dialog of two allegorical characters, Bliss and Fame. For Easter Monday 1724, these characters became Fear and Hope. And in their material, we find the central human predicament – a willing spirit, thwarted by the will of the flesh; a spiritual aspiration weighed down by a human frailty; the promise of redemption tinged by doubts that we are unworthy. Or as in Mark 9, we wish to be salt, but have we lost our saltiness?

As you listen this morning, note the joy of the opening movement a bright dance in a triple meter. Caste as a large-scale da capo chorus, the middle section sung by alto and bass foreshadows the theme of anxiety and fear, heard poignantly in descending chromatics. In the bass aria – the most direct nod to the Emmaus story – listen for the lighting bolts of string arpeggios at the words, “Jesus appears”. And as the alto and tenor sing their dialogue, observe the remarkable layering of these voices and their texts at the same time – truly reflecting our own complicated condition. In the final duet, listen for the spirited violin obbligato, played today by our concertmaster Heidi Braun-Hill. It’s as if the violin is the voice of the Refiner’s Fire, enflaming our hearts towards Love’s fiery-hue. The final chorale, though exultant with threefold Alleluias, concludes with a solemn Kyrie eleison, as if to say, “Look up from the Grave, but stay fixed on the Cross.”

After the atonement and self-reflection of Lenten and Holy Week observances, only the radiance of the Risen Lord can redeem. The tomb is empty, the stone is rolled away. Will my faith be strong enough to roll the stone of my own heart away? Can Christ restore my saltiness? Or will my fear outshine my hope?

Rejoice, you hearts, fade away, you sorrows, the Savior lives and rules within you. You can drive away mourning, fear, anxious despair. The Savior revives his spiritual kingdom. Alleluia!

Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill

Dr. Jarrett.

(Dean Hill)

Dr. Jarrett.

Hope indeed has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage. Anger at the way things are. And courage to see that they do not remain as they are (Augustine of Hippo).

Our collegium, and our choir, and our congregation offer out into the unseen world around a dynamic dialogue, of heaven and earth, of sacred and secular, of divine and human.

It has become quite difficult to do so.   A Christ against Culture fits easily and well with a popular Christianity, Bible drenched, which rejects the world around. Harder it is to think, speak and sing of a Christ in Culture, a Christ transforming Culture. So slips away the religious commitment. So also, from the side of the society, there grows an unwillingness to admit of the value of propositions that are not verifiable but may well be true. Harder and harder it is to say ‘if thine heart be as mine, then give me thine hand’, or ‘in essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things charity’. Or, as today, ‘have peace among yourselves…who is not against us is for us’

Yet here these are today, interwoven. As we hear at the end of the cantata, fear and hope, both so deeply human, sing around and around each other. As we hear in the Scripture—who is not against us is for us; be at peace with one another.

Maybe, among other things, this is why the current Papal visit has made such a resounding though perhaps only partly articulated impact. Here is a religious voice, speaking in the halls of government. Here is a sacred person, addressing the nations as united, in the United Nations. Here is a representation of the Holy, riding the streets of the most secular of cities. Not the church mumbling its prayers behind closed doors; not the culture, its government and its authority and its society, stumbling ahead with its decisions apart from a final horizon. But sacred and secular singing together.

Maybe, among other things, this is why there are still a few University pulpits, whose calling it is to remember and to remind that the point of education is helping people. What makes this University unique is its capacity to harness learning to help people. Education is meant to help people. Period.

That is. One one hand, it is good to know as Einstein showed that gravity is a manifestation of the curvature in space-time resulting from the presence of matter and energy. On the other hand, it is great to see that insight and others like it making space, in new inventions and discoveries, for safety, for progress, for care, for health. Helping people.

Just for a moment. A heavenly hope embracing an earthly fear, both real, both true. Just for a moment, this morning, prayer, soul, eternity, faith, heaven, judgment, salvation, love, God.

I truly fear the darkness of the grave\I do not fear the darkness of the grave

I lament my Savior is now torn from me\I hope that my Savior is not torn from me

RAH: I truly fear the darkness of the grave\SAJ: I do not fear the darkness of the grave

RAH: I lament my Savior is now torn from me\SAJ: I hope that my Savior is not torn from me

This music, this Scripture, this day, this week, this life, just now, they do give you a sense, for all our fears, that hope survives and may just prevail. After all, did not Mr. Berra also say, ‘it ain’t over ‘til its over’?

A colleague and friend, Rev. Rick Black, said this week: ‘When people hear us they should think, Things are not as bad as we think they are, and these folks are helping to make things better.

Herein perhaps we find the valence of the dominical sayings,

He that is not against us is for us. He that is not against us is for us.

and

Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another.

Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another.

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

&

Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music, Marsh Chapel

For more information about Marsh Chapel at Boston University, click here.

For information about donating to the Chapel, click here.

The Bach Experience

Sunday, February 8th, 2015

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Mark 1: 29-39

Psalm 147: 1-11

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Reverend Hill

There come wintery episodes in the course of a snow 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 frozen, snowed in.

You may have known 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.  The senselessness of violence inflicted on the innocent can bring such a feeling.

Over the years I have grown frustrated by my 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.  When C Wesley sang ‘unite the pair so long disjoined, knowledge and vital piety, learning and holiness combined, and truth and love let us all see’ he described something so bone marrow close to my own life, happiness, hope, ministry, faith.  And he also I think was wrestling with the limits of our beautiful language.  Anyway, you by nature and discipline live the thoughtfeeling gospel, and for that I am 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…I can make my way…I can find a handhold or foothold…I 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 lifts 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 we want to underscore 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.

‘How happy I am, that my precious one is the A and O, the beginning and the end; He will claim me as his prize and take me to Paradise, for which I clap my hands. Amen! Amen! Come, you lovely crown of joy, do not delay, I await you with longing.’

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

Dr. Jarrett

BWV 1 was written for Sunday, March 1725. By it’s date, it concludes Bach’s Second Yearly Cycle (Jahrgang) of cantatas written for liturgical purposes in Leipzig. Following the pattern of many from that second cycle, the piece is named for and draws inspiration from a great chorale tune, in this instance, one by Philip Nicolai ‘Wie schön leuchtet’ — we Methodist sing this chorale as #247 ‘O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright’. The tune is featured prominently in long high notes in the soprano throughout the first movement in one of Bach’s most opulent Chorale Fantasias. The final chorale is the same tune as well.

Liturgically and theologically, March 25, 1725 presented Bach and the clergy with a rarity: the movable feast, Palm Sunday, coincided with a fixed feast, the Annunciation of Mary. Officially, BWV 1 is listed as for the Annunciation of Mary, though there is good ‘King’ language through the piece. In general, the cantata’s text and music celebrate Christ’s coming both as King entering Jerusalem, and with ‘eastern opulence’ of the anticipated birth of the King. Pairs of violins, English horns, and French horn contribute to this opulence and richness of texture in a cantata so highly regarded that the first publishers of Bach’s collected works listed this as BWV 1 in the initial volume of the Bach-Gesellschaft.

It is unbridled in joy and praise, heard in hearty dance rhythms befitting the celebration of the coming and the entrance of the King….

‘How happy I am, that my precious one is the A and O, the beginning and the end; He will claim me as his prize and take me to Paradise, for which I clap my hands. Amen! Amen! Come, you lovely crown of joy, do not delay, I await you with longing.’

Reverend Hill

Given the wintery snares, cold air illness, icy night terrors, and snow bound disease, noonday destruction, evil, scourge, wild beasts of this very day, it could be that a sober reading of our lessons, particularly our psalm, one of the great trusting hymns of a faithful heart, will sustain us this morning.  Beauty can heal.

Our psalmist, our singer is a person of simple faith.  We could make many complaints about this hymn and its singer.  He has a dangerously simple view of evil, especially for the complexity of a post-modern world.  He has a way of implying that trust, or belief, are rewarded with safety, a notion that Jesus in Luke 13 scornfully dismisses, and we know to be untrue.  He has an appalling lack of interest in the scores of others, other than you, who fall by the wayside.  He seems to celebrate a foreordained, foreknown providence that ill fits our sense of the openness of God to the future, and the open freedom God has given us for the future.  He makes dramatic and outlandish promises not about what might happen, but about what will be.  As a thinking theologian, this psalmist of psalm 147 fails.  He fails us in our need to rely on something sounder and truer than blind faith.  He seems to us to be whistling past the graveyard.

And yet… for those who have walked past a February graveyard or two, for those who have walked the valley of the shadow of death, for a world at war, for a world searching to match its ideals of peace with its realities of hatred, 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 traps, unforeseeable dangers, and steel jawed snares of life, there is something encouraging about this simple song:  “the Lord heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds.

Our writer is not a philosopher.  He is a musician, perhaps, but not a systematic thinker.  He has one interest:  getting by, getting through, getting out, and getting home.  So he does not worry about the small stuff.  In fact, I have a sense that the psalmist is a bit desperate.  His song is one for that point on the road when you just have to go ahead and risk and jump.  You have made your assessment, you have made your plan, you have made your study, then you have prayed.  Yet you see all the pestilence about you in homes and institutions and nations, so you wonder, is it worth the risk?  You are not sure.

This hymn of the heart is one you sing when you are not sure, but you are 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?  Our writer is at that point, the point of decision.  Once you are there, you have to choose between walking forward and slinking away.

Our psalmist is speaking just here to our immediate need.  Fear not’  The Lord is not interested in ‘the strength of the horse or the speed of the runner’. Go about your discipleship:  pray, study, learn, make peace, love your neighbor, agree to disagree agreeably, every one be convinced in his own mind.

I remember a Day Care center where I used to see notes pinned to the coats and sweaters of daycare toddlers.   This psalm is a note pinned to the shirt of a loved one heading into danger.  When there is nothing else we can give our daughters and sons we want them to have faith.  Faith to go forward, bravely, without being sure of what they will find along the way.

‘How happy I am, that my precious one is the A and O, the beginning and the end; He will claim me as his prize and take me to Paradise, for which I clap my hands. Amen! Amen! Come, you lovely crown of joy, do not delay, I await you with longing.’

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

&

Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music, Marsh Chapel

For more information about Marsh Chapel at Boston University, click here.

For information about donating to the Chapel, click here.

The Bach Experience

Sunday, November 9th, 2014

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Matthew 25:31-46

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The Bach Experience

It was always YF; never MYF. Calling it MYF, or Methodist Youth Fellowship, failed to recognize the fullness of the denominational identity of the United Methodist Church, which resulted from a merger between the Methodist Church USA and the Evangelical United Brethren Church in 1968. Hailing from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Carl and Judy Rife came to us at Hughes United Methodist Church in Silver Spring, Maryland from the EUB side of the family tree. Carl is a United Methodist elder, while Judy’s ministry could only have been diminished by ordination.

Judy was one of our YF counselors, and in preparation for our annual Youth Service one year, she led us in a more profound exegesis of the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats than any seminary curriculum could hope to achieve. When did we see you sick? We made tray favors for patients at Sibly Hospital. When did we visit you in prison? We visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. When did we see you hungry or thirsty? We served meals at Shepherd’s Table homeless services. When did we see you a stranger? We visited disabled neighbors in the affordable housing unit the church had built next door. When did we see you naked? We made quilts from scraps of our own clothes. Consider for a moment the spiritual fortitude of a woman who could teach more than two dozen suburbanite adolescents to appreciate the tradition of quilt-making, encourage us to participate in that tradition as a lived expression of faith, and inspire us to continue to live into the meaning of that act more than a decade and a half later.

Judy died on October 20th in York, Pennsylvania with Carl faithfully by her side as she breathed her last. She lived, in so many ways, a life of righteousness as depicted in the Parable of the Sheep and Goats, and she died, I am confident, with something like the opening chorale of today’s Bach cantata on her lips: “Jesus, you who powerfully rescued my soul, be now, O God, my refuge.”

I will open my mouth in a parable;
I will utter dark sayings from of old,
things that we have heard and known,
that our ancestors have told us.

Like our readings for today, our cantata is rather, well, dark: bitter death; the devil’s dark pit; the anguish of the soul; the ill and erring; the leprosy of sin; blood that cancels guilt; wounds, nails, crown, grave; sin and death assail. Bach’s Augustinian Lutheranism can seem quite foreign to contemporary religious sensibilities. The cantata’s text is a stark reminder that faith is serious business, a matter of life and death, that faith addresses the grievously painful situation of blood guilt, and that faith places us in the existential situation of judgment under threat of eternal damnation. There but for the grace of God, say Augustine, Luther, and Bach, go we all.

The very terminology of blood, guilt, sin, anguish, and judgment press back against the proclivities of late modern religious consciousness toward what might be called, and has been called, moral therapeutic deism.[1] Moral therapeutic deism believes that God exists, created the world, and watches over human life; that God wants people to be good, nice, and fair; that the goal of life is to be happy and feel good about yourself; that God is not particularly involved in our lives; and that good people go to heaven when they die. Of course, this caricature of Christianity is subject to the same critique that H. Richard Niebuhr leveled against the Social Gospel movement in the mid-twentieth century for believing that “a God without wrath brought [humanity] without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”[2] For moral therapeutic deism, there is little reason to take religion seriously, and thus to pay much attention to it. Religion in this vein is as Karl Marx described, the opium of the people.

Not so for Bach, or his theological predecessors, Luther and Augustine. For them, faith is intimate and works its way into our deepest vulnerabilities. It is there then, in our inmost selves, that we meet God, and where God’s presence with us is experienced as grace.

Lord, I believe, help my weakness,
Let me never despair;
You, You can make me stronger,
when sin and death assail me.

Such pietism, of course, must be careful, tending as it does to promise more than it can deliver. Even in a state of grace, we are, at times, yet given to despair. But without allowing for the seriousness of the religious claim for the deepest and often darkest parts of ourselves, what hope could there be in our times of despair?

Dr. Jarrett, tell us more about the hope Bach offers us in today’s cantata.

Thank you, Brother Larry. Today we present Cantata 78 – ‘Jesu, der du meine Seele’ or Jesus, by whom my soul. Written in September of 1724, our cantata dates from Bach’s second year as cantor of the Thomas Church in Leipzig, where his duties included weekly composition of a cantata for the Sunday liturgy. Bach’s texts that day were lessons from Galatians Chapter 5 urging Christians from the ways of the flesh to live in the spirit, and from Luke Chapter 11, in which Jesus heals the ten lepers. As is often the case, Bach draws poetic and musical inspiration from a familiar 17th century chorale tune, in this case Johann Rist’s 1641 Jesu, der du meine Seele. The text calls us to pin our sins on the cross with Jesus using particularly direct Passion imagery. As with Paul’s letter, there is no escaping the depravity of the flesh for Augustine, Luther, or with Bach.

But the theological and, thereby, musical trajectory of the cantata moves the Christian through a cycle of eagerness to cleave to the cross, the power of Christ’s redeeming blood, and the assurance of Christ as our breast plate in a world where Satan lurks to thwart our every thought and deed.

In the opening movement, Bach’s depicts the poignancy of the passion, the deep, deep love of Jesus, our long-suffering – all — as an extended Passacaglia. Not just a formal unifying structure, this recurring tune is laden with all the pathos necessary to depict our frail human condition and the urgency of the need for redemption. As the tune is passed through the instruments and the voices in nearly thirty iterations, Rist’s chorale tune is heard in the soaring voices of the sopranos, doubled by flute and horn. As the text describes the vigor with which Christ rescues our anguished souls, the music, too, becomes more active and urgent, yet all within the framework of the prevailing ground bass. In the end, Bach achieves astonishing scope of idea and musical transformation in one of the most well-known of all Bach’s chorale fantasias.

The corpus of the cantata moves the Christian from earnest, eagerness to follow in Jesus’s steps – listen for the pizzicato of the double bass as the soprano and alto tread in each other’s musical steps – to the redeeming ‘sprinkling’ of the blood of Christ depicted by the elegant flute solo with tenor soloist – to the ultimate offering of not just our sin, but also our whole heart as we, too, take up the cross to live the Gospel in the world. Listen for the wisdom of the baritone and the full, confident stride of the redeemed whose soul is stilled by faith the promise of sweet eternity.

Thank you Dr. Jarrett.

In two weeks, Dr. Jarrett, Dean Hill and I will travel to San Diego with members of the Marsh Chapel Choir where we will meet up with members of the Bach Collegium San Diego to bring the Bach Experience, now in its eighth season here at Marsh Chapel, to the American Academy of Religion annual meeting.  There we will present Cantata 77, Du sollt Gott, deinen Herren, lieben, “You shall love the Lord your God.”  That cantata, presented here at Marsh Chapel in February of 2013, is less dark but no less serious, treating the relationship between law and grace in conversation with the parable of the Good Samaritan. We invite your prayerful, and if so moved material, support of this expanding voice of the Bach Experience and Marsh Chapel.

The question addressed in Cantata 77 is how we are to live in light of the grace of God in us. The question for today’s cantata, Cantata 78, is what God’s grace does in us that we might live at all. The good news of Jesus Christ for us today, preached in the glorious music of Bach, is that the grace of God in us transforms sin, death, guilt, despair, and anguish to blessing so that we might say,

I will trust in Your goodness,
until I joyfully see
You, Lord Jesus, after the battle
in sweet eternity.

Listen. Learn. Love. The Bach Experience for you. Amen.

Br. Lawrence A. Whitney, LC+, University Chaplain for Community Life & Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music

For more information about Marsh Chapel at Boston University, click here.

For information about donating to the Chapel, click here.


[1] Smith, Christian; Lundquist Denton, Melina. Soul Searching : The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. Oxford University Press, 2005.

[2] H. Richard Niebuhr. The Kingdom of God in America. New York: Harper and Row, 1959: 193.

The Bach Experience

Sunday, September 28th, 2014

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Matthew 21:23-32

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Experience

We are entering a new year, whether with the academics at matriculation, or with those following this season’s autumnal sports, or with the hikers and campers as fall arrives.  Our Holy Scripture and our Cantata this morning both offer us insight for a new day.

In particular, those of you who may find yourself outside of the religious traditions around you, or the tradition, if any, in which you were raised, may be heartened to hear the music and word this morning.

Our community of faith at Marsh Chapel, Boston University, shares with other such communities, far and near, an alertness to the meaning in beginnings.  Jesus shall be my everything.  Jesus shall remain my beginning.  Jesus is my light of joy.  So the duet affirms in just a few moments.  Beginnings remain.  The start of something new stays with us long after the newness has been spent.  We recognize the power of new beginnings.

Look at the few days of this week and weekend.

Thursday, hundreds of students and other gathered within the Jewish community to celebrate Rosh Hashana, the start of the Jewish new year.  Songs, prayers, readings, teachings were deployed to plumb the depth of meaning in the return of the year’s opening.

Saturday, many hundreds of students and others gathered for feasting and dancing at the celebration of Raas Lela, the seasonal and communal recognition of what is new this autumn.  Songs, prayers, readings, teachings were deployed to plumb the depth of meaning in the return of the year’s opening.

Boston University is proud to host the largest Hindu student association in the country.  Their yearly Saturday evening festival provides a colorful, fervent, rhythmic opening to the rest of the year.  The dance and the meal seem to pray, as does our cantata: bless all faithful teachers, bless hearers of the word, may peace and loyalty kiss each other, thus we would live this entire year in blessing.

This evening, this Sunday evening, yet another several hundred students and others will gather to share a common meal, a common table, a common reading, a common address, a community of fellowship.  The event is the feast of Eid, in which our Muslim community completes Ramadan and enters the year following those days of discipline.  Songs, prayers, readings, teachings will be deployed to plumb the depth of meaning in a sort of return to the year’s opening.  Let us complete the year to the praise of the divine name.  So the meal suggests, as the cantata affirms.

All of these events this year will have been located in the same space, in the same week, in the same University, on the same street.  They happened and will have happened in the very same room.  In engaging difference, in embracing alterity, we do well not to minimize the variations present.  We also do well to recognize the common hope present.  Community emerges from diversity when diversity is longing for unity.  Without that common hope there will be no common faith and then over time no common ground.

In addition, the Christian community will be gathered for worship, here in the nave of Marsh Chapel and across the airwaves, and later in through the afternoon and week for other Christian services—three Catholic masses, an Evening Ecumenical Sunday Eucharist, prayer and devotion preceding the Inner Strength Gospel Choir practice, a Monday evening Orthodox communion, a Wednesday evening ecumenical and Episcopal Evening Prayer, a school of theology service, a moment of Thursday silent prayer, a Common Ground Thursday communion service, and other services, all located here in the Chapel.  Next Sunday afternoon we will celebrate at 2pm the baptism of Nathan Hutchison-Jones, one of several infants baptized this year.  It is an hour of new beginnings as well.  Beginnings remain.  Beginnings reverberate.  Beginnings resound through time and space.  And every dawn, every morning awakening, is one such new beginning.  How seriously, studiously, and curiously, famously wondered Howard Thurman, have taken our moment of waking from slumber, morning by morning?

Keep a list this week of beginnings, new year celebrations of different kinds.  A first paper submitted.  A first date enjoyed.  A first real conversation in friendship.  A first blistering failure.  A first day on the job.  A first ache in the bones to hint at the advent of autumn in life.  A first handshake.  A first argument.  A first genuine disappointment.  Whatever ‘years’ begin in the next week, take a moment to savor them or at least to consider them.  You can do so with confidence, as we hear in a moment: His good Spirit, which shows me the path to Life, guides and leads me upon a level road, therefore I begin this year in Jesus’ name.

Dr. Jarrett, you have been our guide to the heart of the music brought us by choir and collegium, over these past several years.  How best should we listen, receive, give ear to word and music this morning?

Bach (Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett)

Thank you, Dean Hill. Today’s cantata was first performed on New Year’s Day in January of 1724 for the Feast of the Circumcision and the Naming of Jesus. It may seem an odd choice for the end of September, but the text of the cantata celebrates the start of the new year, and contains all the hopes for God’s blessings and guidance in new endeavors. It seemed particular appropriate for the new beginnings all around us. In particular this morning, we welcome our newest choir members, and four new Choral Scholars, two of whom – Ethan De Puy and Kim Leeds —  sing their first solos in our Bach Experience this morning.

Just as our Gospel lesson from Matthew 21 finds Jesus in the temple teaching, the Luke 2 lesson that occasioned this cantata finds Jesus in the temple just eight days after his birth for the celebration of his official naming. It is a moment of great joy and promise, and Bach provides music full of fanfare and flourish.

Like so many of Bach’s opening choral movements, Psalms of praise are used to ring in the new year: Sing to the Lord a new song; The company of Saints shall praise Him; Praise him with drums and dances; Praise him with strings and pipes, and finally, All that hath breath, praise ye the Lord, Alleluia. Scored for full festival forces with three trumpets and timpani, three oboes and the usual complement of strings, Bach engages the full range of the concerted style. The opening movement is cast in three contrasting sections. The central text, ‘All that hath breath, praise the Lord’,  is treated contrapuntally as a fugue, but offset from the outer sections by grand unison statements from Luther’s setting of the Te Deum, ‘Lord God, we praise you’ and later, ‘Lord God, we thank you.’

The second movement introduces the three soloists in personal and contemporary petitions. And with the choir’s interjections of the Luther Te Deum texts, the movement serves as an extension of the opening chorus. There are two arias in today’s cantata. The first, sung by alto soloist Kim Leeds, is an elegant dance-like movement for strings with characteristics of the polonaise. After a recitative seeking God’s guidance in the new year through the Jesus’s name, tenor Ethan De Puy and DJ Matsko sing a duet, again in spirited dance rhythms. Listen for the outline of the melody in the opening solo played by Ben Fox on the Oboe d’amore.  Bach dresses up the otherwise mundane chorale tune with trumpet and timpani flourishes, rounding out a festive work brimming with hope and expectation.

And if I may be permitted, Dean Hill, on behalf of the musicians, we wish to offer you and the Marsh community our sincerest thanks for supporting our continued study of the fifth evangelist and his astonishing repertoire. Over the years, we have taught, explored, and performed more than 30 cantatas, with regular performances of the St John and St Matthew Passions. Last year’s survey of the B Minor Mass kept us on the mountain-top from September to April. As we begin the eighth year of the Bach Experience, please know how truly grateful we are for your support.

 Faith

This is a day of new beginnings.  As by potential at least is every day, and every Lord’s Day.  Now is the acceptable time.  Today is the day of salvation.

Our love of Holy Scripture impels us to listen, again, just a bit more closely, to the new beginning announced in Matthew 21.

One portion of our passage explores the perennial religious issue of authority.  The pages of the New Testament themselves were composed and collected in no small measure as a way of exploring authority.  ‘By what authority?’ is the question Jesus parries with another question which puts his interrogators on the horns of a dilemma.  When something new is on the horizon, this question invariably arises.  In a new year setting, a day of new beginnings, when something big and new is in the offing, it may be worth asking:  On whose authority shall weighty and consequential decisions be taken?  It is at least worth thinking about: by what authority?

Another portion of our passage tells of two sons and the opportunity to work the vineyard.  It is easy for us to hear the acclaim reserved for the first, who goes ahead and does the work, and to hear the criticism of the one who pays lip service to the stewardship of the vineyard, but goes another way.   For Matthew, at least, here, at least, the surprising gospel is that those not attired in the formal clothing of faith, those even who are engaged in the most secular and ancient of professions, seize the day, and take up the labor and tend the vineyard.  Not the membership list, but the prospect list.   Not the clergy, but the laity. Not those at the center, but those on the periphery.  Not the nominally present, but the actually absent.  Not those who have cleaned the outside of the cup, but those who have had the inside washed and laundered and pressed and put to service.  Not those who say a comfortable yes, but those who say an honest no, yet whose lives say yes, when others’ lives say no.  Here, at least, to the extent one understands the phrase, one hears an initial encouraging word for those who may be ‘spiritual but not religious’.   The vineyard awaits those who will tend it.  This perhaps is what John Wesley meant to say as he preached, ‘if thine heart be as mine, then give me thine hand’.

Paul says it clearly:  Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.  Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.  Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.

It may be that on reflection, the first son had a vision of what such a vineyard could look like over time, what such an unusual kind of labor could feel like over time, what such a new start to a new year in a new way could become over time.  It may be that on reflection you will have a vision of what such a vineyard, God’s garden, could look like over time, with a little effort, what such an unusual kind of labor, faith working through love, could feel like over time, and what such a new start to a sober and loving life this autumn Sunday could become over time.  If so, you may silently whisper, walking or driving home, Lord God we praise you, since you with this new year send us new fortune and new blessing and still think upon us in grace.

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

The Bach Experience

Sunday, April 27th, 2014

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Dean Hill:

Thomas answered, “My Lord and my God”

                   We tend to want rather instant results.  Rapid feedback, metrically based, positive and solid—these are the sorts of outcomes we prize.  It is altogether fitting and proper that we do and desire so.

But in a larger sense?

Ministry in particular and life in general require a long view.   The planting of seeds.  The lighting of candles.  The casting of empty nets.  The waiting, and waiting and waiting.  It is a long wait to live by faith, hoping against hope, and trusting the invisible to vanquish the visible.  Easter is the announcement of the victory of the invisible.

Thomas, poor Thomas, remembered for his very human desire for the visible, the tangible, the metrically based, positive and solid, verifiable knowing—picks up the monicker, Doubting Thomas.

Thomas.  Logos.  Nicodemus.  Samaritan Woman.  Lazarus.  Paraclete.  BELOVED DISCIPLE.  Thomas.  Where did all these figures come from?  Not one every seen or heard in the rest of the New Testament, particularly not in the other gospels.  Whence?

The strange world of the Bible is at its strangest in the Fourth Gospel.

But Thomas is not just the doubter.  Thomas, alone, Thomas, more than any other, Thomas, of the silk road, Thomas of the so named Gospel, Thomas of our reading today, Thomas alone perfectly summarizes the whole of John, saying of the crucified and risen One:  ‘My Lord, and My God’.  Thomas is not just the doubter.  Thomas is the true believer, too.  The Son of Man is both Earthly Lord and Heavenly God.

So we have some reason to wait, some basis for the long view, some heartfelt humility as we move forward through the ages.

To live in faith is to build schools in which you will not study, though your grandchildren might.  To live in faith is to start churches in which you will not pray, though your grandchildren might.  To live in faith is to plant trees under which you will never take a siesta, though your grandchildren might.

Herman Melville worked in a government office most of his life, having written the greatest of novels, Moby Dick, whose popular appreciation came well after Melville’s death.

Ludwig von Beethoven composed his Ninth Symphony, without the capacity to hear it, to hear its beauty, its power, its wonder.

Daniel Marsh moved this University out to the banks of the Charles river, and constructed buildings, including this very Chapel, later named for him,  but did not live long enough, though he lived a very long life, to see just how much Boston University would change and grow.

Alistair Macleod, eulogized this week as an author, ‘not in a hurry’, who left behind one novel and one ample collection of stories, all set in Cape Breton, will never fully know how meaningful his beautiful prose has been to so many of us.

Johann Sebastian Bach wrote his magnum opus, gathering together over time material older and newer, and giving us one the greatest artistic, musical works of all time, perhaps the very greatest, a portion of which we shall hear together in a moment.  Bach never heard the B Minor Mass in lifetime.  Bach never lived to hear the greatest of his works performed.

Dr. Jarrett, what Bach did not hear, we shall.  At the conclusion of this year’s tour de force, this year’s celebration of Bach, here and there, in NYC and in Boston, and by radio and internet the world over, what are we about to hear?

 

Dr. Jarrett:

We come this morning to the fulfillment of a year-long survey and study of Bach’s greatest work – the Mass in B Minor. Many would even argue the B Minor Mass is humanity’s greatest work! In this final section of the B Minor Mass, we hear Bach’s Sanctus, Osanna, Benedictus, Agnus Dei and the famous Dona Nobis Pacem. We hear some of Bach’s earliest music, the Sanctus written his first year in Leipzig in 1723, more than 20 years before it found final resting place in the B Minor Mass. Mirroring Isaiah’s six-winged Seraphim, Bach scores for 6voices, the only such instance in his entire output of vocal writing.  Caste as a grand and bold exultation at the throne of the Almighty, we have truly entered a musical Holy of Holies. The Osanna that follows surpasses the Sanctus in texture, expanding six voices to eight in double chorus, exclaiming their Creator’s Praise in joyful dancelike shouts of Osanna. From the largest complement of voices, Bach next scores for his most intimate in the entirety of the Mass with the Benedictus. Only three members of the orchestra accompany the lone tenor voice. The delicacy of the flute line and the tenderly sung tenor, bring us to the humility of the Savior, entering Jerusalem on the donkey, the meek and mild manger, and ultimate humility of the cross.

The Agnus Dei brings us another intimate moment of austere devotion. We are fixed and transformed by Christ on the tree, the emblem of suffering and shame.

In the fall we knelt together in supplication for the Kyrie, a moment of corporate pardon and affirmation of grace. In December we rejoiced in the nave of Bach’s Mass with that great hymn Gloria in Excelsis Deo. IN February, we affirmed our faith at the crossing of word and table with Bach’s Nicene Crede. Today, Bach invites us to the High Altar, transformed by the Holy of Holies. Emboldened and renewed, we take up the cross, sent forth into the world in an eternal quest for God’s peace – Dona nobis pacem, pacem, dona nobis.

 

Dean Hill:

With your help, and that of the choir, and especially that of Bach, we have learned some things.

(From Scott Fogelsong): (The mass) offers music lovers a dear and faithful friend.  Like certain other beloved choral works—Handel’s Messiah comes immediately to mind—its grandiose scope never overwhelms the intimate humanity at its core.  Thus we cherish it, not only as a masterpiece, but also as a mirror that shows us the saints that lie within.

The entire Mass might be assembled from re-purposed material.  We may never know for sure.

Bach never heard a performance of the completed B Minor Mass.  “The greatest work of music of all ages and all peoples” (Nageli).

What part of the symphony of your life, or mine, will be played, enjoyed, celebrated only after you are not able to hear it?  What gift of inquiry that causes an inspiration to vocation?  What gift of wealth that endows in perpetuity some form of the good, the true, the beautiful?  What gift of progeny that continues a genetic and biological trajectory in life?  What gift of institutional, institutionalized improvement that makes this world a better place?  What song of yours will others be singing when you are long gone?

Marilyn Robinson traces the emergence of her faith, in part, to a long ago Sunday morning:  “One Easter I went with my grandfather to a small Presbyterian church in northern Idaho where I heard a sermon on the discrepancies in the gospel accounts of the resurrection…I was a young child… yet I remember that sermon…I can imagine myself that primal Easter, restive at my grandfather’s elbow, pushing my nickels and dimes of collection money into the tips of my gloves…memorably forbidden to remove my hat…It seems to me I felt God as a presence before I had a name for him…I was aware to the point of alarm of a vast energy of intention all around me…and I thought everyone else must also be aware of it…Only in church did I hear experience like mine acknowledged, in all those strange narratives, read and expounded…(227)…Amen (the preacher) said, having blessed my life with a lovely thing to ponder.”

Thomas answered, “My Lord and my God”

 

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

Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music

The Bach Experience

Sunday, February 23rd, 2014

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Brother Lawrence Whitney:

Credo

First: confession.  Second: glorification.  Third: belief.

Here, at last, we turn with Bach in the movement of the Mass to belief.  “Credo…” “I believe…”

“Br. Larry, I’m not sure I believe in hell anymore,” a student stated with no small hint of trepidation.  “So?” I asked in reply.  “Br. Larry, don’t get me wrong, I’m totally down with Jesus,” another student remarked, “I’m just not sure he’s the only way to God.”  “Should you be?” I inquired.  “Br. Larry, how can I believe in an almighty God who let my friend die like that?”  After a period of silence I wondered aloud, “After such a tragedy, can any of us believe in such a God?  Should we?”

There is an underlying concern in these inquiries.  This is the reason to bring them to a chaplain, even one who refuses to give a straight answer.  The concern is what impact these beliefs, at odds with received tradition, might have on the salvation of those who hold them.  If I believe the wrong things, can I be saved?

This reduction of salvation to doctrinal conviction is not classical Christianity but rather a modern phenomenon.  It is a result of the encounter of Christianity with particular forms of Enlightenment rationalism, admittedly itself an evolution of Protestant thinking.  Ironically, Christianity as right belief in this way takes a pernicious turn toward humanistic works righteousness.  It insists that salvation is achieved by intellectual assent and not in the first instance by the grace of God.  Frequently it turns to idolatry by turning the bible, and belief therein, into the gatekeeper of heaven.  As the slogan goes, “The bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.”  This is Christianity become Biblianity, in spite of Paul’s injunction that “no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.”

If this misplaced emphasis on belief were limited to the Protestant Christians from whom it arose it would be bad enough.  Alas, given the ways in which belief-oriented Christianity has become a taken-for-granted stream in the American conscious, it has become the predominant paradigm for interpreting all religious orientations in our pluralistic society.

As we speak, the United States Supreme Court is in the process of hearing several religion cases. One regards prayer in legislative sessions.  Two regard the right of corporations to deny birth control coverage on the basis of the religious beliefs of their owners.  If their decisions in these cases follow their track record, and we should expect they will, it is likely the Court will err.  The errors will not be on the basis of jurisprudence, but rather on the basis of a fundamental misunderstanding of religion as belief at the very foundation of American jurisprudence.  In spite of the fact that there are no Protestants left on the Supreme Court, it is likely that all of the justices will prove themselves Protestant by proxy in making decisions based on a particular Protestant understanding of religion as belief.

Given the transitions in the field of religious studies over the past fifty years, it is unlikely that any undergraduate religion major could graduate without a thorough understanding that belief is but one aspect of religion, and a minor one in many traditions.  Little wonder, then, that Secretary of State John Kerry said, “if I went back to college today, I think I would probably major in comparative religion, because that’s how integrated it is in everything that we are working on and deciding and thinking about in life today.”

Religion reduced to belief is dangerous.  Assertions of belief are ways of delineating in-group, out-group boundaries.  Right now, Arizona awaits the signature of their governor on legislation that would allow religion as belief to be cited as grounds for denying services to gay and lesbian couples.  Beliefs become justifications for standing your ground against those who believe else or otherwise.  For most of human history, the function of religion was in fact to just so delineate groups from one another.  In the Axial Age, however, figures such as Socrates, Buddha, Confucius, and Jesus, among many others, were instrumental in the transformation of religion toward a universality that transcends difference.  And so it is that Jesus rejects any justification of “Stand Your Ground:” “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also… You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

This is not to say that belief has no place in religion at all.  The “Credo” in its proper context in the Mass setting is an excellent example of belief within the wider framework of the practices of religion.  The “Credo” is sung, that is, it is embodied in the voices of the choir, the tintinnabulations of the orchestra, and the gestures of the conductor.  It is the belief of individuals who belong to a community and to God.  It is belief enacted, not belief intellected.  Dr. Jarrett, tell us more about what we believe with Bach this morning.

Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett:

In October we began our journey in this great cathedral of music, Bach’s Mass in B Minor, entering first the narthex with the supplicant Kyrie. In December we joined the mighty congregation in the nave in the Gloria in Excelsis Deo. Today we come to the Cathedral crossing – where the tenets of the faith are taught, affirmed and observed.

Written late in Bach’s life, the Credo is an unparalleled compendium of compositional style and skill. Marsh Chapel congregants are now well familiar with Bach’s interest in symmetrical structures and architectures. The nine movements of the Credo unfold in such a way that the Crucifixus text comes as the centerpiece with Et incarnates est and et resurrexit on either side. These three movements, the crux of the faith, form the central portion of this grand Credo setting. On either side, Bach sets extended portions of text for arias – first a soprano/alto duet and later a baritone solo. The first depicts the three in one nature of God. You’ll hear the alto melody as an extension and mirror of the soprano, interweaving and informing one another, as if to depict being of one substance of the father.

The capstones of the Credo are two pairs of choruses. Each set begins with a movement proving Bach’s skill and interest in the old 16th century style of a Renaissance motet. These two movements – ‘Credo in unum Deum’ and ‘Confiteor’ –draw their compositional model from Gregorian Chant melodies. Both movements yield in spectacular display to music in the high Baroque style with trumpets, timpani and full-on display of Bach’s unmatched mastery of the contrapuntal style.

For the performer – and we hope for the listener – Bach’s music impels these texts to leap from the page. As Luther wrote, “The Notes makes the texts live.” And as Br. Larry reminds us today, Bach’s music calls us to a belief re-imagined, a belief quickened, revitalized, and transformed. This is a Credo of cosmic utterance, new realities and possibilities of faith far beyond the sum of the parts.

Brother Lawrence Whitney:

Dearly beloved, what we believe with Bach this morning is the living and breathing of the life of faith.  The words are ancient, the spirit is fresh.  Believe then in God who “makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.”  Amen.

The Bach Experience

Sunday, December 8th, 2013

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Matthew 3: 1-13

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Dean Hill:

Before Jesus there was John, before the Christ there was the Baptist.  Jesus was a disciple of John.  John prepared the way for Jesus.  As we listen with word and music, perhaps we can ponder the power of precursors.

Before Christmas there is Advent, before the incarnation is the anticipation.  The feast of Christmas comes after the penitence of Advent.  The joy of birth comes after the anxiety of expectation.  As we listen with word and music, today let us ponder the power of precursors.

Before tradition there is event, before understanding there is experience.   The rolling voice of the Baptist is the event through which we each year pass in order to come to our understanding of Christmas.  The joy of the feast comes after the murky dark water of the Jordan river, and the towering ferocity of John, in camel’s hair eating locusts.

Before Matthew there was Mark, before teaching there was preaching, before catechesis there was kerygma.  Matthew is an interpreter of Mark.  Mark is the model for Matthew.  As we listen with word and music, perhaps we can ponder the power of precursors.

We might want to pause a moment to greet Matthew in a personal way.  He will be our gospel guide for 51 weeks, walking alongside us as we climb the mountain of existence.   He is not eating locusts and honey nor wearing camel’s hair and sandals, though his attire is both strange and ancient.

His is a difficult introduction to make.  “The difficulty is rather the character of the Gospel itself—a Greek Gospel, using Greek sources, written for a predominantly Gentile church, at a time when the tradition had become mixed with legend, and when the ethical teaching of Jesus was being reinterpreted to apply to new situations and codified into a new law…It cannot have been written by an eye witness.  It is a compendium of church tradition, artistically edited, not the personal observations of a participant” (IBD 242)

The outline of Jesus’ life in Matthew is like that in Mark.  Galilee.  Jerusalem.  Country. City.  Small. Large. (A good pattern for the trajectory of much ministry).

Matthew has added a collection of teachings to Mark (but just added it to situations already known to Mark).  He also adds legendary material (infancy narratives).

As in Mark, Jesus is a teacher and healer. Geography and scenery are the same.  Are there two sibling gospels and three synoptics?

He combines Mark’s chronological and geographical outline, with lots of new material, so that we have a real catechism, sometimes seen as five different sections.  Matthew likes the number 7.  He exhibits a lot of ecclesiastical piety.

Matthew comes from Jewish rabbinic circles.  And a Christianizing of the portrait of the disciples. ‘The reference to the fulfillment of prophecy which pervades the whole book and derives from the author’s theological as well as his apologetic anti-Jewish interest’. (R Bultmann, HSG, 381) He raises the stature of Jesus into the divine.

“His prose differs from that of Plato to approximately the extent that the English in the news columns of a well written daily differs from that of Shakespeare and the King James Version” (IBD, op cit, 239).

Our passage prepares us for worship, for the singing of God’s praises, for glory to God in the highest.  Is this not, Dr Jarrett, our reason for hearing this Bach this Sunday?

(Dr. Scott Jarrett speaks)

Dean Hill:

We ponder the power of precursors, in days during which around the globe we ponder the influence of Nelson Mandela.

You will at some point sense a nudge to join in this parade.  Some will do so by listening on the internet.  Some will do so by tuning in via radio.  Some will do so by coming to 735 Commonwealth Avenue.  Next Sunday with Lessons and Carols would be a good one to do so, and to bring a friend.

It is a privilege and weekly joy to see this community of faith gathering at 11am on Sunday.  A student, bagel in hand, trundles up the stairs.  A couple who have driven from an hour to the west find an aisle seat, then following worship have lunch and do one city thing each week.  A husband and wife, catholic and protestant, join us for two services, this one at 11am—then a break—and catholic mass at 12:30.  A young couple with tiny tots finds the energy and discipline to bring the family for worship and study.  An older man, alone some of the week, becomes a part of an empowering community.

The world does not lack for wonders but only for a sense of wonder.  Sunday at 11am, one way or another, is the way back to wonder.  To hear something that is beautiful.  To see someone who is good.  To hear some word which is true.  These are the seeds of wonder.

Then, from here on Sunday, you may find your way elsewhere during the week.  To audit a class on Lincoln on Monday.  To hear a panel of 12 interfaith students on Tuesday.  To watch the basketball team on Wednesday.  To hear a lecture on the Dead Sea Scrolls on Thursday.  To attend  the Shakespeare Project on Friday.  To take in a concert on Saturday.   Friends, your life of faith in worship can be centered at Marsh Chapel at Boston University, and for your fellowship, education and service you may swim through the whole University!   I do not know—anywhere—a better way to unite the pair so long disjoined, knowledge and vital piety.  I do not know a better way to nurture the soul and so to grow great hearted future leaders.  And we do need such…

  – The Reverend Doctor, Robert Allan Hill, Dean. & Dr. Scott Jarrett, Director of Music