…from Salomo Franck and J.S. Bach.
I have just finished the script for next Sunday’s Sunday Cantata on Lutheran Radio UK, on Bach’s cantata BWV 132, Bereitet die Wege, bereitet die Bahn, for the Fourth Sunday in Advent. (If you haven’t heard the earlier episodes yet, visit the programme page to catch up! And send me your feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org or through Facebook.)
And what a delight it has been to delve into this masterpiece, a perfect marriage of music and theology. Just to think that Bach churned these out first once a month, and then once a fortnight or even weekly, for several years!
I won’t post all the music here, obviously. For that, you need to listen to the programme. Or buy the recordings. I can’t recommend highly enough the set from Bach Collegium Japan used by Lutheran Radio UK.
But do enjoy the start of the first movement, with its brilliant word painting: the soprano’s meandering crooked path (on the word ‘Bahn’) being made straight as she sings joyfully of preparing for the coming of the Messiah.
Here are the words in English. Note the wonderfully crafted movement from the promise of Christ’s coming and the need for preparation by faith and life, through the accusation of the Law, the confession of sin, and absolution on the basis of your baptism, to a prayer for God to sanctify the believer. Straight out of the Catechism!
The Cantata is based on the Gospel reading for next Sunday, John 1:19–28.
Prepare the ways and level the path!
Prepare the ways
And make the paths
Of faith and life
Quite even for the Highest.
The Messiah is coming!
If you will call yourself a child of God and Christ’s brother,
you must freely confess the Saviour with your heart and mouth.
Yes, your entire life must bear witness your faith!
If the words and teaching of Christ
Must also be sealed through your blood,
Then offer yourself willingly!
For this is the Christian’s crown and glory.
Meanwhile, my heart, prepare
The way of faith for the Lord,
And clear away the hills and the mountains
Which stand in the way!
Roll back the heavy stones of sin,
Receive your Saviour,
That He may be united with you in faith!
Who are you? Ask your conscience,
You shall have to, without hypocrisy,
Hear your just sentence, whether you are false or true.
Who are you? Consult the Commandments,
They will tell you who you are,
A child of wrath in Satan’s net,
A false and hypocritical Christian.
I shall, my God, confess to You openly,
I have until now not confessed You properly!
Although my mouth and lips have called You Lord and Father,
my heart has turned away from You.
I have denied You by my life!
How can You give a good testimony of me?
O Jesus, when Your bath of spirit and water
Cleansed me from my misdeeds,
I did in truth swear constant faith to You;
Alas! but alas! The bond of baptism’s bond has been torn asunder.
I rue my faithlessness.
O God, have mercy!
O help me, that with steadfast fidelity
I may always renew through faith the covenant of Grace!
Members of Christ, ah consider
What the Saviour has given you
Through the pure bath of baptism!
At the spring of blood and water
Your clothes become bright,
Which had been stained by misdeeds.
Christ gave you new garments,
Red purple, white silk,
These are a Christian’s garb.
Mortify us through Thy goodness,
Awaken us through Thy grace;
Make the old man sick,
That the new may live well
Here upon this earth,
To direct his mind and desires
And his thoughts towards You.