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

January 29

The Bach Experience- January 29, 2023

By Marsh Chapel

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Matthew 5:1-12

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For the text and translation of the cantata, please open the January 29, 2023 bulletin in a new tab. A portion of the sermon is available below.


Dean Hill:

By grace, with the encouragement of truth in Scripture, of goodness in the women and men of this faithful congregation, and of beauty in the highest reaches of musical splendor in Bach this morning, we are gathered and addressed.  There is much about us that occludes, that shadows, the lastingly true, the sturdily good, and the elegantly beautiful.  Our culture is awash, sometimes overcome, with these shadows.  We see photos of young widows in Ukraine.  We watch reports of gruesome gun violence in California.  We mourn a racist, heedless, needless death in Memphis.  Sometimes it threatens to become enough to take away our confidence, our courage, our willingness to lift another foot, to take another step forward.

So, Sunday. Sunday comes to bring encouragement, including this morning.  Matthew adorns our shared life with beatitudes, inverted blessings, which invert the expected blessings, finding makarios, happiness, blessing, on the underside, weakened, distaff side of life. So, worship of God on the Lord’s day is not a matter of indifference, not at all.

For we have left St. Luke, now to follow the trail of Jesus’ life, death and destiny, this year, 2023, in the Gospel of Matthew.   Matthew relies on Mark, and then also on a teaching document called Q, along with Matthew’s own particular material, of which our reading today is an example.  He has divided his Gospel into five sequential parts, a careful pedagogical rendering, befitting his traditional role as teacher, in contrast to Luke ‘the physician’, whose interest was history.   We have moved from history to religion, from narrative to doctrine.  Matthew is ordering the meaning of the history of the Gospel, while Luke is ordering the history of the meaning of the Gospel.  You have moved from the History Department to the Religion Department.  Matthew has his own perspective.

Every word is meant for a particular time, but not for all time.  For all time, and for our time, we have the staggering responsibility to fit the teaching to a new era, another epoch.  Whether or not ethics is situational, it is certainly epochal.  Our response and resistance to a megalomaniacal regime can be guided by but not directed by these precious verses of Holy Scripture.  Their application is, to use a marvelous American idiom, ‘up to you’.   And this will be inevitably be difficult.  Experience, freedom, presence—the invisible divine in life—are demanding and difficult.

Matthew has his own perspective.  Remember: ‘A literary work or a fragment of tradition is a primary source for the historical situation out of which it arose, and is only a secondary source for the historical details for which it gives information’ (45).  (Wellhausen.)

Some of that perspective involves a developing and developed Christology, an understanding of Christ.  Matthew is apparently fighting on two fronts, both against the fundamental conservatives to the right, and against the spiritual radicals to the left.  In Matthew, Gospel continues to trump tradition, as in Paul, but tradition itself is a bulwark to defend the Gospel, as in Timothy.  Matthew is trying to guide his part of the early church, between the Scylla of the tightly tethered and the Charybdis of the tether-less. Our forebears taught us so.  That is, with Matthew, they wanted to order the meaning of the history of the gospel.  They aspired to do so by opposition to indecency and indifference.  They attempted to do so by attention both to conscience and to compassion.  That is, they lived daily with a yearning to transform the culture around them in the spirit and into the form and face of Jesus Christ.

For example:  we today hear a reading and rendering of the Sermon on the Mount, perhaps the most beloved and best remembered of Jesus’ teachings.   At the outset, we face a raging river to cross.  For when were these teachings meant?  For all time, for Jesus’ time, for Matthew’s time, for our time—for the time being?

Let us let the beauty of the moment bathe us for a moment.  How today Dr. Jarrett shall we hear Bach?


Dr. Scott Jarrett’s portion is not available at this time.


Dean Hill:

Gracious God, loving and holy and just,

We lift our hearts in thanks and praise this morning.

We come to this sanctuary ready again to live as glad hearted women and men.

With glad hearts, curious minds, and eager spirits we offer ourselves in worship.  Bless us, we pray, by thy presence, which we invoke in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Are we as ready to receive the gifts of grace as we should be?

Have we been prepared, in these days, to notice the bountiful goodness by which Divine Love has touched us?

Do we need to confess a little slowness, a little occasional lack of perception, shortness of spiritual breath, a slight or not so slight disregard for what we have been given?

O Lord, as a people of glad heart, we confess that we have not always been fully a people of open hands.  Open us in these moments of silence, to a new rebirth of wonder.

Great art thou, O Lord our God, and fully to be praised, morning by morning.

We pray for thy blessing in this hour, thy gifts of confidence, certainty and sureness for the days to come.

Help us to receive, with confidence, the many surprising gifts embedded in our personal lives.  Help us to notice the unexpected possibility, the new friend, the unusual word, the strange connection.  Help us to see more than we plan to see, to receive more than we expect to receive, with the confidence born of obedience.

Teach us to claim some certainty in the midst of uncertainty, as a church and and as a congregation.  Teach us we pray the path we best should trod into the unforeseeable future.  Teach us rightly to connect yesterday with tomorrow, in the light of thy certain love.

Shower with cool saving rain and moist power the leaders of this world, with sureness to seek justice and peace.  Help those in the torn out conflicts of our day to continue daily, surely, to seek the promise of the Prince of peace.  Kindle daily in the hearts of great leaders an even greater desire for peace, with a sense that surely goodness and mercy shall follow.

Through Jesus Christ our Lord,  Amen.


-Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music



November 20

The Bach Experience- November 20, 2022

By Marsh Chapel

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Luke 23:33–43

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SAJ: In September, we opened our Bach Experience series with Cantata 147. Along with with Cantata 10, and of course Bach’s magnificent Magnificat setting, the first chapter of Luke has provided centuries of musical creativity and inspiration. The parables of Jesus as recounted in the Gospels are the departure point for many cantatas, but Luke’s voice is prominent in the liturgical schedule of readings for Bach. Of the cantatas Bach wrote in 1723 for the 26 Sundays after Trinity, nearly two-thirds are based on lessons from Luke --  the Sermon on the Mount, Zechariah’s benedictus, the parables of the unjust steward, the good Samaritan, the pharisee and the publican, prophesies of the great tribulation, and Jesus’ raising from the dead the young man from Nain. 

And once more, we interweave the power of Scripture with the glory of music, the word spoken with the word sung. Bach and Luke meet today in Cantata 70 Wachet Betet Betet Wachet, as Jesus foretells the second coming. Before Bach, help us regard St Luke. His voice has guided our Sunday by Sunday experience this past year. On this final Sunday of the liturgical calendar, Dean Hill, help us look forward by looking back to a year wherein we have heard the voice of St. Luke, Sunday by Sunday?  

RAH:  Yes, Dr. Jarrett, we indeed have spent the year with St. Luke, and conclude our conversation with him this morning.  There are some outstanding features of the Lukan biblical theology, which we may simply name as we set sail for other shores. On this Sunday which honors the reign of Christ, especially, this is most fitting. 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 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.   History, theology, compassion, and church are hallmarks of Lukan biblical theology, and signs of the reign of Christ, and emphasize the promise of what God has done, in the indicative mood, over what we can do, in the imperative mood. 

SAJ: Indicative and imperative. Pluperfect. Subjunctive. Declension, conjugation. I can almost smell a pencil sharpener nearby, and I bet if we’d diagram a sentence or two, we might even recall the smell of the mimeograph machine!   

But back to our grammarly moods – indicative and imperative – In the eleven movements of today’s cantata, I count 23 imperative verbs: Rejoice greatly, Celebrate with the Angels, Triumph eternally, Lift up your heads, Be of good cherr, Tremble, o sinner, Sound the last trumpet!, Flourish in Eden. Serve God eternally. Lead me to the gates of heaven. Lead me to promised rest, lead me to everlasting joy. Cantata 70’s title has is entirely imperative verbs – Wachet betet betet wachet. Watch pray, pray watch.  

Bach and his librettist are creating a musical sermon, a theology of which is likely downstream of the great Lutheran preachers and teachers, all of whom are downstream of Luther himself, continuing all the way to the Ursprung – the evangelist’s record of the life and teaching of Christ.  

Is this river cruise similar to a pure science flowing downstream to its related applied disciplines? Philosophical or practical? Ideal or pragmatic? Visionary or realistic? 

RAH:  Just so, Dr Jarrett.  That is, indicative precedes imperative.  Indicative precedes imperative, in history, theology, compassion and church. The gospel is about what God has done, first, not about what we might do, a distant second, if that.  JS Bach, a good Lutheran, would heartily agree.  What God has done outlasts, outshines, overshadows, outranks, outdoes what we might do, or not.  That is what makes the gospel good news, rather than just news. What God has done! And let us hold most closely the divine 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.  

Further, Dr. Jarrett, over 16 years we have endeavored to render the good news in a bi-lingual manner, on these Bach Sundays, Scripture and Cantata together, juntos, conjoined.  For those of us today, especially, who are listening from afar, who hear but do not see, what are two of the themes of this particular Cantata to which we should caringly attend, in the dialogue of the soulful song and sacred page? That is, first, what in the music should most listen for?   

 SAJ: Today’s images are exciting and dramatic, and Bach manages to cover all the ways in which one can be excited and dramatic. The second coming, in many ways, represents the ultimate test of faith. If we acknowledge that faith is that fuzzy intersection of doubt and certainty, here, the believer (also a sinner) is at once terrified of the day of judgement, then finds a deep breath an enough confidence to sustain their faith a longer. Repeatedly, at macro- and micro-levels, Bach meets us in a crisis of faith, neutralizes our fear through Christ’s love, giving the needed strength and confidence to match Christ loving embrace for eternal pardon and peace. The arias take this tri-partite journey individually and cumulatively.  

 Two extraordinary moments from the baritone bring us to the edge, a terrifying foretaste of the final destruction of heaven and earth. But the second instance might just model how each of us could meet that moment when it comes.  

RAH: And then, second, what in the word, in the words sung, is most telling for us this morning, listening to Bach?  

SAJ:  The signal of the last day, the day of judgement is the trumpet. “Behold I tell you a mystery, we shall be changed in a moment in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. Bach features the trumpet throughout the cantata, in chorale tunes and in the triumphant arpeggio that is the motto heard in the first measure of the piece. Geoff Shamu is out trumpeter today – Geoff will you play the motto for us??  

SAJ: So, Dean Hill, in conclusion this morning, how shall we think about what he have heard, and shall hear? 

RAH:  Well, it may be, Dr. Jarrett, that our living of these days, and our life in Christ this day, carry both a dimension of practice and promise.  

In practice, our 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.  One aspect of this today is the work of sermon and cantata. 

Twice a term, you engage our collegium, choir, community and listenership in a full morning of teaching about JS Bach, and enjoyment of a Bach Cantata in worship.  This Bach Experience, lecture, gathering, brunch, worship, and sermon, are novel and experimental advancements, in learning and performance, a part of our practice of faith. 

SAJ:  And regarding promise? 

In promise, we turn to Holy Scripture. Our conclusion in the reading of St. Luke comes today with Jesus upon the cross.  Every benediction in ending for a service of worship, including this morning, carries a sense of an ending at hand.  Our own mortality, our own full physical limitation, our own death, at some unforeseen point, is both shadowed and overshadowed, just here in Luke 23, just now on Calvary.  Perhaps more than anything else, our own mortality, our limited humanity, dust art thou and to dust thou shalt return, call us to faith, and awakens us to faith.  Our Christ and his final consort address us, with a promise, a promise that in life and in death and in life beyond death, God is with us, we are not alone, thanks be to God.  Jesus even promises paradise in that hour, in that liminal moment.  The reign of Christ, somehow, says our Gospel, and somehow, sings our Cantata, continues and conquers, though how and how so who can say?  It may be that the single purpose of Sunday worship, every seventh day, every Lord’s Day, is a clinging to the ringing of this dominical promise, our own everlasting hope.  The Lukan Jesus has the last word, and offers that word a lasting promise, a last word in lasting promise…today you will be with me in paradise. 

We are given and receive in faith the divine promise: He keeps them in His hands, and places them in a heavenly Eden.  May it be so! 

RAH: We are given and receive in faith the divine promise: You shall flourish in Eden, serving God eternally. May it be so! 

-Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music


September 25

The Bach Experience- September 2022

By Marsh Chapel

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Luke 16:19–31

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Dean Hill:

Especially throughout the COVID summers, we came to rely on the radio, its classical music and occasional weather and news, for our summer technological engagement with the wider world, out in the woods of Empire State.  Alone in the earlier mornings, when the fitful restlessness of work life gradually abates, as it can over time if we give it time, sometimes there is momentous moment. 

 The announcer said something about Debussy, whom I remember from required (back in the days of required courses) college introduction to music.  Therein we sat on a carpet and listened and were tested later on baroque, classical, romantic, impressionist and modern music.  The French name made a mark.   

Then onto the radio waves came a light, flowing harp beauty.  It was a shimmering beauty, light and alluring, quiet, gentle, unlike really anything I could remember hearing before.  The host named the piece as an Arabesque, perhaps the second such from Debussy, though I may have mistaken that.  The lake breeze lifted the notes, and there was throughout the room for a few fine minutes a shimmering beauty.  For two summers and more we could not sing together, or perform together, or worship together, in COVID. We will never any longer take the thrill of congregational and choral singing of the hymns of faith for granted.  These are beautiful moments. 

Like its cousins, truth and goodness, such a beauty leaves a mark, makes a lasting mark, a beauty mark you could say.  Time stops.  Imagination awakens.  Troubles recede.  You are caught up in something larger than yourself, as sometimes happens in religious experience too. 

In this radio carried music, it seemed to this untrained ear, there rose and fell a kind of oriental melody, a lightness, a veiled impression.  And it seemed to me that the better person to listen was the kind of person listening in this moment, who has no formal musical education, other than that incurred through spouse, family, and various church organists and choir masters.   

 It is the ear, often, rather than the eye, voice rather than face, the audible invisible, that carries an uncanny power.  The triumph of the invisible over the visible.   

 It happens that my mentor Bishop Joseph Yeakel died in this same summer time week.  He taught us: you can only preach what you know…the one on one work is the most important ministry…your staff need to be creative and loyal both…people remember what you do more than what you teach...most of us need more reminder than instruction 

His contemporary, a long-retired minister, had a dream the night before, before he knew of Joe’s death, that he had been asked to preach at the memorial, but had not prepared a sermon.  Dreams are such strange things.  Invisible, shimmering, beautiful, too. 

 Across the radio waves again, Dr. Jarrett, we assemble our listenership.  With joy and peace in believing, with joy and peace in the true, good and beautiful.  For what, this Lord’s Day, shall we most listen? 


Dr Jarrett's section is not available.


Dean Hill:

In these weeks we listen also to, and soberly remember, Jeremiah. 

The prophet Jeremiah excoriated his people, hoping against hope to keep them in faith along. For four decades he challenged, criticized, and vilified his beloved country, and its leadership, and its people.  They heeded him not.  

Jeremiah exclaimed: False prophets deceive people with their optimism.  The temple has no efficacy in and of itself.  The true circumcision is not of body, but of mind and heart.  Even the Bible can lead astray: Even the Torah may become a snare and a delusion through the false pen of the scribes. 

Notice some of the themes from the sixth century bce:  Deportation, false optimism, betrayal of heritage, forgetfulness of history, ineffective leadership, personal failings which damage the nation, turning of a deaf ear toward the voice of God. “For my people are foolish, they do not know me; they are stupid children, they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil, but do not know how to do good.” 

Jeremiah, whom we have heard in the background of our worship and preaching for some weeks, speaks to us again. today.  He warns us, he warns us, week by week he has warned.  And then, remarkably, in today’s reading, he stakes his life on hope, an unseen hope, a powerful hope of what may yet be. May his memory, just here, truly help us. 

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

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

With his beloved country in ruins, Jeremiah does something great, something remarkable and hopeful and great.  Jeremiah buys a plot of land.  One day, a long time from now, he muses and prays, there will be some manner of restoration: ‘I cannot see it.  I cannot hear it.  I cannot prove it.  Sometimes I cannot believe it.  But, hoping against hope, I will buy some land, and someday, somebody, somehow will use it’.  This is faith:  to plant trees under which you will not sleep, to build churches in which you will not worship, to create schools in which you will not study, to teach students whose futures you will not know—and to buy land which you will not till.  But someone will.  Or at least, that is your hope.  You have done some things this fall.  You offered a morning prayer.  You attended to worship. Good for you.  You sent a check to support something or someone.  Good for you.  You went and volunteered to make contacts and calls. Good for you.  You spoke up and spoke out, regardless of the fan mail, family disdain, and other costs.  You did something.  Will it make a difference?  Who can say?  But it does make a difference, for you, if for no one else.   

Go.  Go.  Go and buy your little plot of land. 

-Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music

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