A blessed Good Friday to readers of the notebook. This year, like last year, I’ll be spending my Good Friday with Bach (and Jesus). I plan on listening to the St. Matthew Passion and again being overwhelmed by my sin and my need for a savior.
I wrote the following for a class last spring in which we were assigned to evaluate the St. Matthew Passion. I hope it rings as true for others as it did for me.
Believe it or not, Bach has just as much to teach preachers as he does musicians. I could write on and on about the compositional techniques that Bach masterfully used, his incredible knowledge of instrumental textures and the like, but the most striking thing about the St. Matthew Passion should be how personal it is for the listener. The passion account is not a story to be told annually, but something to be lived. One author quotes Luther’s general disapproval of such musical settings, “The Passion of Christ should not be acted out in words and pretense, but in real life.” Surely, this idea weighed heavily upon Bach who was able to wed the words with real life. Those who communicate the gospel must be able to do this – to force the hearer to answer Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” Bach, of course, has answered this question for himself in the Passion:
He hath us all so richly blessed,
The blind he hath returned their sight,
The lame he leaveth walking,
He tells us of his Father’s word,
He drives the devil forth,
The troubled hath he lifted up,
He took the sinners to himself.
I hope that you are afforded the same opportunity as I to listen to the piece but if you have to pick between the Bach and Jesus, pick Jesus. It’s what Bach would have done.