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

January 30

The Bach Experience

By Marsh Chapel

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Luke 4: 21-30

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Consider us with Your love, enclose us within Your mercy!

So, in word and song, we bow before God this morning.


In word, this year, the word as given through the Gospel According to St. Luke.

What meets us in St. Luke this year?

Luke was written nearly a generation later than Mark, by most estimates, Mark in or near 70, Luke in or near 90 of the common era.  Traditionally ascribed to Luke the physician, its author and that of its sequel, the Acts of the Apostles, is finally unknown to us.  We know him only through the writing itself.

What do we find?  Or what shall we find in prayerful conversation with Luke across the next year, and beginning today amid Cantata and Liturgy?

Luke is made up of a mixture of ingredients.  First, Luke uses most of Mark. An example is our passage today, the depiction of Jesus rejection by his own home town.  Like Matthew, Luke knew and repeated most of the earlier gospel of Mark. But he made changes along the way, or construed the gospel according to his own desires and emphases.  This is hopeful for us, in that it is an encouragement for us to take the gospel in hand, and interpret it according to our time, location, understanding, and need. Second, Luke uses a collection of teachings, called Q, as does Matthew.  An example is our Lord’s Prayer.  Luke’s version is slightly different from that in Matthew, as is his version of the beatitudes and other teachings, found in the ‘sermon on the plain’, rather than the ‘sermon on the mount’.  Third, Luke makes ample use of material that is all his own, not found in Mark or elsewhere. The long chapters from Luke 8 or so through Luke 18 or so, are all his. Examples include some of your favorite parables, like the Good Samaritan, and like the lost sheep, and like the Prodigal Son, and like the Dishonest Steward.  We have Luke to thank for the remembrance of these great stories. Luke brings us a unique mixture of materials, and makes his own particular use of them.

But regarding Word, what does Luke say, and how does he say it?

This will take us the year and more to unravel.  We shall do so, one step at a time, one Sunday at a time, one parable, teaching, exhortation, miracle, or, as today, one narrative at a time.  Still, there are some outstanding features of the Lukan horizon, which we may simply name as we set forth, a sort of map for the journey ahead. First, Luke displays a commitment to and interest in history, and orderly history at that.  Both Luke and Acts are cast in a distinctive historical mode. In fact, Luke has his own schemata for sacred history, in three parts: Israel, Jesus, Church: the time of Israel, concluding with John the Baptist; the time of Jesus, concluding with the Ascension; the time of the church, concluding with the parousia, the coming of the Lord on the clouds of heaven, at the end of time.  Second, Luke employs and deploys his own theology, or theological perspective, including this emphasis upon history and the divine purpose in history.   Third, Luke highlights the humanity and compassion of Jesus in a remarkable way. The Christ of St. Luke is the Christ of magnificent compassion, embodied in the humility of a birth among shepherds.  The Lukan Christ bring this word:  a passion for compassion. The poor, women, the stranger, the injured, those in dire need all stand out in Luke, as the recipients and subjects of Jesus’ love, mercy, grace and compassion. Fourth, Luke carries an abiding interest in the church.  Ephesians says that ‘through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the principles and powers’. That catches the spirit of the author or the third gospel and of the Acts to follow.

Hold most closely the compassion in Luke.  At every turn, there is a return to the least, the last, the lost; those at the dawn of life, those at the twilight of life, those in the shadows of life.  Those who decry preaching that engages life, culture, politics, economy and the cry of need about us have not read Luke, not even a bit.

Notice, record, the way Luke puts it, beginning, middle and end:   He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree, he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away…The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor…Blessed are the poor, for yours is the kingdom of God…What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?…Sell your possessions and give alms; provide yourselves with purses that do not grow old…When you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame and the blind…You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just…Said Zacchaeus, ‘behold Lord the half of my goods I give to the poor’…They contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty…

Dr Jarrett, what grace, and sung beauty does our Cantata bring us today, alongside the compassion of St. Luke?


Dr. Jarrett’s response text is unavailable at this time.


 Dean Hill:

What shall bring to application of Scripture and Cantata?

First, forbearance.  “Let your forbearance be known by all men.”  Forbearance is a patient power to bear with others and their needs.  To help others get things right.  To guide by presence and voice.  Forbearance is a kind of prevenient forgiveness, a gift ahead of time.  We look for and lean on people who bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ, like mothers bear children and fathers bear with children.  Institutions depend upon forbearance, and discern their leadership there.  It is this grace to bear with that helps us in tight places, helps us through tense meetings, helps us manage tough interviews.  It takes faith to show forbearance, and it takes something else, too.  It takes a peace, like a river, down deep in the soul, a freedom from anxiety.  “Have no anxiety about anything, but in all things through prayer and supplication with thanksgiving bring your entreaties to God”.  It makes me anxious to read the sentence, because I can scarcely live it, in full, for a whole day.  Yet as we grow in faith we find, over time, the peace to be forbearing, to be present but not anxious.  We affirm forbearance in Cantata and in Scripture.

Second, joy.  Our passage is best known, perhaps, for its triumphant affirmation of faithful joy.  “Rejoice in the Lord, always, again I say, Rejoice!”  It is startling for us to hear this sincere word, written in prison.  It is one thing to be joyful in the summer, another in the winter.  One thing in the meadow, another behind bars.  Joy is more than happiness.  Joy is bone happiness, or happiness put to music.  Sometimes it is expressed in humor.  One winter in our church there was a high moment, when our youth performed Godspell.  It makes us older people very happy to see a stage full of handsome, talented 17 year olds.  Since his grandson played Jesus, and very well, I said to the three generations:  “Son and Father I understand in the Trinity, along with Spirit, so Daniel and Al, my theology can comprehend you two, but Albert I have no way to comprehend the role of the Grandfather of Jesus”.   Joy also a playful musing (musing is a crucial spiritual term), and he carried the thought along.    We affirm faithful joy in Scripture and Cantata.

Consider us with Your love, enclose us within Your mercy!

So, in word and song, we bow before God this morning.

-Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music

November 28

The Bach Experience

By Marsh Chapel

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Due to technical difficulties a full recording of this service is unavailable.

Luke 21:25–36

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

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

A conversation starts, somehow.  A conversation travels, somewhere.  A conversation ends, sometime.  After months of screen, of zoom, of facetime, of text, of email, of distance, of attention to spaces, electronic spaces to which nuance, humor, personality, humanity, and connection so often go to die, we have this autumn been returned to the land of conversation.  Praise God from whom all blessings flow.  There is a robust magic in conversation, whereby John Wesley named conversation a means of grace, alongside prayer, Scripture, sacraments, and fasting.  Conversation.  One step in and toward faith begins with a regard for conversation.

In our current Marsh Chapel ministry, on Bach Sundays, we engage a conversation.  We model that conversation in two voice dialogue, Director and Dean.  The conversation engages past with future, Scripture with music, wisdom with beauty, and Bach with experience.  Our COVID time has muted conversation, to some degree, but has not squelched it, at least not yet.

In conversation, there abides, or lurks, the lasting possibility of heart to heart communication, heart by heart communion.  That potential seizes you, not the other way around.   You are longways, say, into a talk with an old dear friend, and of a sudden, you realize, you intuit, just how much that friendship means, a friendship planted and grown in conversation.  You are gathered before dinner, and the children, coaxed, begin to sing the songs of memory, of history, of Zion, of nation, of upgrowing.  The folksongs, the hymns, the partner songs, the spirituals, the camp fire rounds, multiple rounds, give off an invisible glow, a kind of verbal hearth.  Or, there is a moment of difference. Some things, like some malignancies, you can never cure but you can manage.  They are manageable but not curable.  They can be managed, managed to ground, even though, unseen, the malignancy remains.  In conversation, in the magic of conversation, such hard and dark and difficult truth can surface.  You realize afterward, that one loved one, in one seemingly innocuous conversation, was trying to say something, something like, I am worried about this medical procedure…  But the clues and hues and dues and schmooze are sometimes too indirect, too subtle, and you miss the marrow and meaning of the talk, only to recall it, only to get it, later, much later, too late.  You are in a meeting, and all of sudden the temperature shifts, and sunlight and warmth become cave darks, stalactites and stalagmites.  And the conversation flickers, withers, and dies.  Something is in there.  It would be utterly invisible and inaudible by zoom.  But in conversation, in presence, with embodied silence, and incarnate body language, you see and hear.   She is really hurting.  He is really angry.  I am in over my head.  They want something they can never have. Somehow, conversation.

Dr. Jarrett, what does the music and beauty of Bach bring us in conversation this morning?

Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music:

There is a healing power, a healing grace in conversation.

I have a friend and colleague, a musicologist and viola da gamba player, whose research focuses on what he calls “Polyphonic Intimacy”. The notion that western music, with it’s subjects and counter-subjects, point with counter-point, strands of consonance and dissonance woven together, trace their roots in mirroring human conversation. Imagine one monk chanting the Te Deum. His neighbor in the cell next door, a plucky fellow he, decides it’d be fun to sing along with his pious brother, but does so in what we’d call today harmony. A musical conversation is born. A point and counter-point. Harmony. A musical conversation. Better yet, a musical congruence, where I shape my conversation to yours. Or perhaps the kind of conversation where a couple can complete each other’s sentences, or allow the conversation points to gather one on the other. There are unlimited possibilities. But the idea that music, making music, making music with others in community, can mirror societal discourse, modeling a path for our disparate voices to find commonality, unity, perhaps even fostering social cohesion.

Could it be that music has such healing power, a healing grace in music’s conversation?

Soprano and Alto. Tenor with Bass. The “I and Thou” reflected each day in the Imago Dei. And this Advent Sunday, the Christian Soul with Christ as Bridegroom, that long awaited restoration of Thou in me, Thou in you — conversation as dialectic. Music amplifies, augments, colludes, and collides with that conversation in powerful, yes even healing ways.

Soar joyfully, ye voices, aloft to the sublime stars. Love draws nigh. Come quickly, Lord Jesus. Love and Faith prepare a place for you in my heart. Come, dwell within.

Listen today for two virtuoso Oboes d’amore in musical conversation with one another (No 6), or in No 2, doubling, and thereby musically affirming, their soprano and alto conversations partners. Each aria, singer with solo instrumentalist, modeling a musical conversation, whose features, parameters, and sights are given to us by Bach. A space to make sense of it all, a thoughtful interplay revealing a path to reconciliation and renewal, affirming Thou in me, Thou in you.

There is a healing power in and through music, and, yes, a healing grace revealed in music’s conversation.

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

Pastoral ministry, cut to the chase, is the dangerous and difficult pursuit  of an faithful 20-minute sermon a week, alongside 25 genuine conversations a week.    I and Thou.  There yet remain some circles of ministerial wisdom shared in conversation about…conversation.  Think of Seward Hiltner at Princeton, of Homer Jernigan at BU, of Henri Nowen at Yale, of Ann Belford Ulanov at Columbia and Union.  They are not with us any longer, and not with us to remind us that the most the important things in ministry are the one-on-one things. Pastoral ministry is preaching.  Pastoral ministry is conversation.  Sit down and listen, listen, listen…until… until the cows come home.

With some exception, for the minister, every hour spent on a machine, every hour spent with zoom, with text, with email, with computer, is an hour spent apart from conversation, and so apart from life itself.  Here is a warning word for the minister. Walk with a friend.  Sit for intercessory prayer.  Call somebody on the phone.  Set a lunch date.  Offer a coffee.  Take with happiness the unannounced visitor to your office.  Steer the conversation, when you can, away from doing and out onto the broad meadow of being, out toward memory and view, on out to where heaven and earth pass away.  Keep a journal.  Write a sermon.  Craft a poem.  Design and experiment.  All of us are so challenged, so called, for ministry emerges from baptism first, from ordination second.  All the baptized have entered ministry.

My grandmother grew up on a dairy farm near Cooperstown, NY.  She graduated from Smith College in 1914.  She taught school and married later in life, raising three daughters.  She spent her later life in a modest Syracuse home, surrounded by piles of books, mounds of newspapers, and letters written or to be written and received, often long ago.  She and her college roommate wrote each other once a week from graduation until death.  She seemingly feared no conversation, and celebrated all conversation, no matter how middling or shallow or tiresome.  Famously, she was thrilled, overjoyed, to have the Jehovah Witnesses come into her Methodist living room, on their mission.  She loved to talk with them about the intricacies of Leviticus.  She always wanted them to stay longer than they could stand to stay.  They left worn out, bedraggled, dog tired, and exhausted.  She just smiled and put a roast in the oven. They had been engaged in real conversation.

To listen is to love.  To listen is to take one step in faith.  People do not always know what they think and feel until they say it, until they say it to someone they know is listening, and really cares.  This is not psychiatry, not psychotherapy, not formal counseling, nor any other of the—very wonderful, soulfully salvific, and endlessly helpful—forms of care.  This is conversation, a means of grace.  As a person of faith, it is yours, to receive and to give.

A conversation starts, somehow.  A conversation travels, somewhere.  A conversation ends, sometime.  Today is our first day, our first Sunday, in a year of conversation, with St. Luke:  Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

-Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music

October 31

The Bach Experience

By Marsh Chapel

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John 8:31–36

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The Rev. Dr. Jessica Chicka, University Chaplain:

Good morning! Can I say what an absolute thrill it is to get to share God’s word with you today? I’m always excited to preach when the Dean offers, but to get to share those duties with my friend and colleague, Scott, discussing Luther and Bach on Reformation Sunday which also happens to be Reformation Day? It’s like the Lutheran Superbowl! I even wore my team’s colors – Red - (and insignia – the Luther Rose that appears right here on the bottom of my stole)! While I know today is another holiday observed in the US, *ahem* Halloween, October 31st will always be Reformation Day for me, first and foremost.

All kidding aside, Reformation Day is a significant marker of changes within the church and a reorientation to the personal, unmediated relationship people have with God. It is where many of our familiar forms of Protestantism find their roots, in one way or another, emphasizing the role of justification by faith and God’s unconditional gift of grace. Many of us are familiar with the general story of Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the doors of the Schloßkirche, or Castle Church, in Wittenberg. What began as a conflict with the Church over the use of  indulgences to assist people in attaining absolution, not only for themselves but for those who had died, resulted in centuries-long changes and divisions within Christianity that continue to this day. It also began a major shift in theology, emphasizing the ever-present role of God as our foundation as mediated through the Means of Grace, which for Luther are the scripture and the sacraments. The abuses of the Church were causing people to falsely put their hope in what they had to “do” to achieve salvation, straying them from the true guidepost for a life of faith, the Gospel. As we heard Dean Hill say in his sermon last week, Luther risked fracturing the Church apart for the sake of the Gospel.

One of Luther’s driving factors in challenging the church was that people’s souls were on the line. In convincing people that they had to buy indulgences to ensure salvation, the church was misdirecting and misinforming people about how salvation is attained, notably through faith, Sola Fide. Luther’s focus was not to separate the Church into factions, which is what ultimately happened, but to reform the church to a radical return to the Gospel as the guiding principle, Sola Scriptura, by scripture alone. Luther’s theological perspective removed power from human institutions, which are inherently corrupt because they are made by corrupted beings (we are all sinners), and instead emphasized that God is the only true source of power, love, and grace. God’s effort is what saves us, not our own. It is difficult to hear this in a culture that puts so much emphasis on achieving whatever you want in life if you just work hard enough. The Lutheran message of salvation Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, (scripture alone, faith alone, grace alone) squarely places responsibility for our salvation in the hands of God.

In today’s Gospel, we hear a familiar phrase, “You will know the Truth, and the Truth will make you free.” Despite the fact that this line of scripture does not occur in our regular readings, we have heard it, or forms of it, echoed in our society. Hearing this quote out of context may cause us to question “what is the truth?” as some sort of abstract concept, or what are we being made free from? However, in context, Jesus all but tells the disciples and us what the Truth is. In the first half of this sentence Jesus states, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples” then follows it with “you will know the Truth and the Truth will make you free.” Continuing in Jesus’ or God’s word makes one a disciple of God. The Greek word used here is “μενω” meno, which is more than just continuing to follow in Jesus’s teachings. Instead μενω indicates “abiding” in the word – accepting and remaining in relationship with Jesus who is the word. The question here is not “What is the truth?” but rather “Who is the Truth?” Abiding in God’s Word enters us into a transformative relationship with the Divine in which we come to know the Truth by having our lives completely reoriented through the radical love we encounter in Jesus’ death and resurrection. We are made free through our faith, which comes in abiding in God’s word. In Luther’s language, we are justified in by our faith in Jesus Christ, made free from our sin through God’s gift of grace.

When we are set free from sin through God’s grace, we are set free to love and serve one another. One of the most common critiques of Lutheran theology is that it de-emphasizes the role that works play in the life of the Christian. Yes, Lutheran theology does say that faith and not works is what justifies us to God, but the freedom that comes from our faith and trust in God and God’s promises enables us to share love with and be in service to others. Good works flow out of a life grounded in faith. The relationship we have in trusting in the triune God transforms how we think and act in all ways in the world.  The problem with how many of us conceptualize our approach to a life of faith is that we think “God wants me to do that” as the driving factor for the decisions we make. It may very well be that God does want us to do the things we are intending, but we must be aware that we can’t do it alone. It is faith in God that supports us along the way.

Psalm 46 speaks to God’s constant support of God’s people throughout the ages. God is not only our support, but our refuge and our strength. When we fear, when we face uncertainty, God’s presence provides the security to help us continue on our way. In the Psalm, the whole world is in tumult. Natural disasters, political upheavals, and even the notion of change itself are realities that the human community has come to face time and time again, including in this passage. I’m sure many of us can relate to this feeling of chaos. It appears as if almost everything is in upheaval and the world does not feel as ordered or certain as it may have in the past. God is still with us through these times of trial, however. God remains steadfast when everything else is in a state of flux.

Many of us are experiencing fear and trepidation about what the future will hold for our communities, our country, and the world. Turning on the news, looking at the internet, or even hearing the weather report at this point can induce a sense of panic. So much has changed for us in the past year, some definitely for the better, but much that has caused us to feel alienated from the world that we once knew. We do not know what to do in facing such huge societal and global problems such as a continuing pandemic, political division, racism, bigotry, economic upheaval, and increasingly destructive natural disasters due to climate change. These issues are so large and have created so much harm that we are overwhelmed. We come together today as a community of faith to hear the good news of Jesus Christ and lay down these burdens for a while, finding sources of hope and bolstering our faith.

God’s advice to us in these times, according to the Psalmist, is to “Be still and know that I am God.” Be still. Be silent. Have faith. These are things you need to be a follower of God. You may remember Dean Hill’s call for us to seek out the quiet in order to feed our faith in last week’s sermon. “‘Carry out the quiet’ says Dean Hill.  You do not need endless cable TV to have a happy life. The same for email, zoom, texting, techne, all.  Carry out the quiet.  For a good life you do and will need quiet.” When we share in this stillness, this time of reflection with the Divine, we can discover the ways we abide with Jesus. We can hear the still small voice within us, helping us to see the world in a new way. Silence sustains us for action.

Psalm 46 was also the inspiration for Martin Luther’s hymn, A Mighty Fortress, which most will probably identify as “the” Lutheran Hymn. I believe our Music Director might have some more to tell us about “A Mighty Fortress” and how another famous composer, J.S. Bach, interpreted Luther’s original hymn and theology for BWV 80. Scott?

Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music:

(Text forthcoming)

The Rev. Dr. Jessica Chicka, University Chaplain:

Thank you, Scott. This Reformation Day, we are reminded of all the ways the Church has faced challenges in the past and have the opportunity to envision what hope we can bring to the Church of the future. In coming together today and each Sunday as a community of faith to share in God’s word, including the musical offerings we are about to hear, we are emboldened in our assuredness of our salvation through Jesus Christ. May God guide us in the spirit of this ongoing reformation, awakening, affirming, and strengthening our faith. God is our foundation, and we are constantly renewed and reformed by abiding in God’s Word. We are set free from the bondages of sin by the Truth established for us in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God’s one true Word.  Amen.

-The Rev. Dr. Jessica Chicka, University Chaplain and Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music

September 26

The Bach Experience

By Marsh Chapel

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Mark 9:3850

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today we receive the gift in memory of the faith of the church, and we give ear to the beauty of our first Bach Cantata of the year.  We are truly ‘blessed’.  All the senses—sight, sound, scent, touch, taste—are enlivened today.

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

I have been one acquainted with the night.

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

I have outwalked the furthest city light.

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

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

April 25

The Bach Experience

By Marsh Chapel

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1 John 3:1624

John 10:1118

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

Personal Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music:


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

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

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

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

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

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

Social Involvement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ah, would that I had a thousand tongues!

 Ah, would that my mouth were

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

Than what was geared to God’s praise!

Then I would proclaim the Highest’s goodness,

For all my life he has done so much for me

 That I cannot thank Him in all eternity.

-Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music

February 28

The Bach Experience

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the full service

Romans 4:1325

Mark 8:3138

Click here to hear just the sermon

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


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

The day had finally arrived.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music:


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mark 8 sounds so similar:

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

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

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

-Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music

January 31

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

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the full service

Click here to hear just The Bach Experience

Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music:

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

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

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

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

Psalm  103:2

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett:

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

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

Ecclesiasticus 1:28

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

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

Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett:

Hear these words from the prophet Isaiah:

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

The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill:

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

Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett:

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

The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill:

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

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

Isaiah 58: 7–8

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

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

The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill:

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

Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett:

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

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

Luke 10:27

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

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

The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill:

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

Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett:

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

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

John 14: 23 and 27

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

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

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

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

November 8

The Bach Experience

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the full service

Matthew 25:1-13

1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ms. Sandra Cole, Marsh Chapel Membership Secretary:

God, our help and deliverer[1]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thy kingdom come.

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

Give us this day our daily bread.

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

And lead us not into temptation.

But deliver us from evil

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


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

-Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music

-Ms. Sandra Cole, Marsh Chapel Membership Secretary

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

September 27

The Bach Experience

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the full service

Matthew 21:23-32

Click here to hear just the sermon

The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill:

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

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

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

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

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

He commands. Albert Schweitzer would be pleased.

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

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

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

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

We see cultural wounds that do not heal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the first son has a change of heart.

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

But…he has a change of heart.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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


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

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

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

Beauty is like that.

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

Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill

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

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

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

What changes the heart?

What baptizes the person, the heart, the spirit?

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

What pierces, transforms, moves the heart?

Beauty does.

It does.

It says, whispers, reminds:

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

Music can say things that words never can.

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

Then he thought…

Well, maybe, well, maybe

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

Maybe that is what you will think, leaving today.

Beauty stands beside me

Beauty stands beside me

I hear, I hear, I hear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 26

The Bach Experience

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the full service

1 Peter 1:17-23

Luke 24:13-25

Click here to hear just the sermon

The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music