What sort of a man

… do you think Bach was?

Here are some answers, from neuroscientist Raymond Tallis, conductor John Eliot Gardiner and organist John Butt, interviewed by Catherine Bott, during the BBC’s Bach Marathon on 4 April 2013.

Continue reading What sort of a man

The invitatory: teaching us to pray the Psalm

I’ve been listening to the current series on Issues, Etc. on the daily prayer offices, with Pastor Wil Weedon. If you haven’t, I recommend them to you, even if you consider yourself to be an expert on them.

Listening to Pr. Weedon’s discussion on the Venite (Ps. 95), which is an integral part of Lutheran Matins and Morning Prayer, the following detail struck me:

The Invitatory, which introduces the Venite, is a great tool for teaching us how to pray this Psalm – and by extension, all the Psalms.

Psalm 95 itself is an invitation to God’s people to “sing to the Lord“. Who is this Lord? To this, the Invitatory provides the answer.

The common Invitatory simply blesses “God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. O come, let us worship Him.” Fair enough.

But if you use the seasonal Invitatories, the worshipper’s eye of faith is drawn to greater details:

Advent: “Behold, the Lord comes to save us. O come, let us worship Him.”
Christmas: “Lo, to us the christ is born. O come let us worship Him.”
Epiphany: “The christ has appeared to us. O come, let us worship Him.”
Lent: “The Lord has redeemed His people. O come, let us worship Him.”
Passiontide: “Christ became obedient to death, even death on a cross. O come, let us worship Him.”
Easter: “The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia! O come, let us worship Him.”
Ascension: “The King ascends to heaven. Alleluia! O come, let us worship Him.”
Pentecost: “The Spirit of the Lord fills the world. Alleluia! O come, let us worship Him.”
Holy Trinity: “The Lord has called us by the Gospel. O come, let us worship Him.”
Post-Pentecost (Trinity 1–Trinity 19): “The Lord has called / gathered / enlightened / sanctified us in the true faith. O come, let us worship Him.”
Michaelmastide: “Glorious is God with His angels and saints. O come, let us worship Him.”
End of church year (Trinity 25–27): “The Lord will come again in glory. O come, let us worship Him.”

See what’s going on? We aren’t directed only to the glory of the Triune God, but to the specific offices of the Divine Persons, chiefly the redeeming work of the Son (Advent–Ascension) and the sanctifying work of the Spirit (Pentecost–Trinity 19).

This is the Lord whom we worship: He who comes to us not in the abstract, but in the specific work of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. He is YHWH of Sabaoth.

As we confess in the Athanasian Creed: The Father is Lord, the Son is Lord, the Holy Spirit is Lord. Yet there are not three Lords but one Lord!

Sorrow to joy in one simple step

How do you go from this,

and this,

to this,

and this?

Simple: by being found by the Good Shepherd!

The full story, via Bach’s cantata BWV 21,  in Sunday Cantata on Lutheran Radio UK this Sunday (16 June), and thereafter on demand on the website.

Don’t miss it!

P.S. Don’t you just love that final sucker-punch of an ‘Alleluia!’?

Anti-heresy anthem

Some months ago, and at the end of a longer article, Pr. David Petersen quoted a hymn by Luther that was still included in The Lutheran Hymnal (no. 260) but was left out of the Lutheran Service Book. Like a lot of TLH hymns that didn’t make it into LSB, this one’s a time-tested treasure of the church. It’s a paraphrase of Psalm 12, applied to the Church.

1. O Lord, look down from heaven, behold
And let Thy pity waken:
How few are we within Thy Fold,
Thy saints by men forsaken!
True faith seems quenched on every hand,
Men suffer not Thy Word to stand;
Dark times have us o’ertaken.

2. With fraud which they themselves invent
Thy truth they have confounded;
Their hearts are not with one consent
On Thy pure doctrine grounded.
While they parade with outward show,
They lead the people to and fro,
In error’s maze astounded.

3. May God root out all heresy
And of false teachers rid us
Who proudly say: “Now, where is he
That shall our speech forbid us?
By right or might we shall prevail;
What we determine cannot fail;
We own no lord and master.”

4. Therefore saith God, “I must arise,
The poor My help are needing;
To Me ascend My people’s cries,
And I have heard their pleading.
For them My saving Word shall fight
And fearlessly and sharply smite,
The poor with might defending.”

5. As silver tried by fire is pure
From all adulteration,
So through God’s Word shall men endure
Each trial and temptation.
Its light beams brighter through the cross,
And, purified from human dross,
It shines through every nation.

6. Thy truth defend, O God, and stay
This evil generation;
And from the error of their way
Keep Thine own congregation.
The wicked everywhere abound
And would Thy little flock confound;
But Thou art our Salvation.

(Pr. Petersen also relates some incidents at the time of the reformation, when this hymn was used as an anti-heresy shield by congregations if a false preacher got up in the pulpit!)

In 1724, to mark the bicentenary of the publication of the first ever Lutheran hymnal, J.S. Bach began a project whose aim was to compose a chorale cantata for every Sunday of the church year.

Usually, church cantatas were based on biblical texts, such as the Gospel reading of the day. The chorale cantata was a new venture: to take the hymn of the day and turn it into a cantata, with the usual choir, soloists and orchestra. Usually, the text of the first and last verse would be presented as they were, while the words of the inner verses would be paraphrased in a series of recitatives and arias. The chorale tune would be heard in some version in the opening movement, and be sung in four-part harmony as the closing movement.

For reasons not entirely clear to us, Bach never completed the cycle (probably he lost his librettist), although he did get through most of the year.

The chorale cantata for the second Sunday after Trinity (last Sunday), BWV, was a setting of none other than this great anti-heresy anthem. It was my privilege to introduce it in last week’s episode of Sunday Cantata on Lutheran Radio UK.

To encourage you to go and listen to it here, here’s a little taster of the opening movement. It’s written in a deliberately archaic style, as a conscious nod to the past, as befits a project that sets out to celebrate the present benefits of a past event.

The chorale tune itself is sung by the altos of the choir, reinforced by the oboe. Around it, the choir sings a solemn fugue, based on the melody.

[In this recording, Bach Collegium Japan is joined by Concerto Palatino.]

This Way and That: Liturgical Orientation

Another liturgical titbit, from last Sunday’s service bulletin at Our Saviour Lutheran Church:

Liturgical Titbits: Liturgical Orientation

One of the noticeable things about the liturgist in a Lutheran service is the fact that he doesn’t stand still. One moment, he’s facing the congregation, another he’s got his back turned on them. What’s that all about?

The clue is in the fact that the liturgist has a dual role in the service. Sometimes he addresses God with, or on behalf of, the congregation. At other times, he addresses the congregation on behalf of God.

Whenever he speaks with or on behalf of the congregation (invocation, confession, Psalms, hymns, prayers), the liturgist faces the same way as the congregation: towards the altar (which symbolises God’s presence). And whenever he speaks on behalf of God (absolution, salutation, readings, sermon, blessing), he faces the congregation being addressed.

The one exception is the Service of the Sacrament, when the liturgist does both at once. There is an explanation for this—but it’s somewhat debatable, so we’ll leave that to another time.