Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Jesus, My Joy

Paul and I feel blessed to attend a church whose pastor also happens to be a violinist with our local symphony. This past Sunday evening our usual service was preempted by our local chamber choral's performance of Bach's, Jesu, Meine Freude (Jesus, My Joy), and Haydn's, Heiligmesse.  Our pastor would be performing with the orchestra, but rather than just having someone else substitute for him at church, he cancelled the service and urged us all to attend the concert instead.  Then he took the opportunity to give us a lesson in music appreciation, and much more.  He dedicated the Sunday evening service a week prior to walking us through Bach's motet, explaining its structure, background, and rich meaning.  He left us with hearts aching to see such dedication to creating art for the glory of God revived in His church in our times, and really, really excited for the upcoming performance.

And, on a geeky note, as a person who likes very much to interact in my own writing with the writings of others, I was tickled to learn that  in Jesu, Meine Freude was Bach's own interaction with an existing hymn by the same name written by Johann Franck.  Bach begins with Franck's text and weaves it together with passages from the eighth chapter of Romans, blending a sermon with music which will deliver it straight to the heart.





On the evening of the concert, which was held at the Catholic church downtown, Paul and I were so eager that we got there 50 minutes early. This gave us plenty of time to read the program, which provided historical background as well as the English translation of Bach's German and Haydn's Latin.  I knew that Bach was a Lutheran and a man of vibrant faith.  The program notes, however, seemed to be written from a secular perspective.  I say this mainly because the writer seemed puzzled that what Bach had written as a "memorial to the recently departed" could sound so "celebratory."  What really struck me about this, and the reason I bring it up, is that this person clearly struggled to find a context for Bach's joy in the face of death:
 "The Lutheran ideal of death as a release from the pains and difficulties of life's suffering is more easily understood when we examine the lives of those in times, places, or situations other than our own.  The 18th-century perspective on death must surely have been affected by the frequency with which it was confronted. Bach himself buried more than ten of his children." 
Indeed! Bach fathered twenty children, seven with his first wife and thirteen with his second.  Out of the twenty, only half survived to adulthood. I understand what this writer is getting at. It is true that we, overall, are living longer and easier lives. But regardless of our "time, place, and situation", the fact remains that the death rate has not changed since Bach's day, and, truth be told, life is still full of suffering for the majority of those living it. Even so, by and large, suffering or not, we fight tooth and nail put off death for as long as we can.  Death was the great enemy of man in Bach's time and it remains so today.  In fact, as a Lutheran, and a man devoted to Scripture, Bach would not have viewed death merely as a release from the hardship of life.  He believed that death was serious business, not because it was the end of life, but because after it came God's judgment, "the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed.  He will render to each one according to his works..."(Rom. 2:5b,6).

No, to find the key to Bach's triumphant tone in the face of suffering and death, and to find the key for our own, one need only listen to the words of his music.

Jesus, my joy, my heart's delight, Jesus my treasure!
Ah, how long? Ah, long has my heart troubled and longed for you!
God's lamb, my bridegroom, besides You on earth nothing shall be dearer to me.

Now there is nothing damnable in those who are in Christ Jesus,
who do not walk after the way of the flesh, but after the way of the spirit.

Under your protection I am safe from the storms of all enemies.
Let Satan rage, let the enemy fume, Jesus stands with me.
Whether now it thunders and flashes, whether sin and Hell terrify, Jesus will protect me.

For the law of the spirit, which gives life in Christ Jesus,
Has made me free from the law of sin and death.

Defiance to the old dragon, defiance to the vengeance of death, defiance to fear as well!
Rage, world, and attack; I stand here and sing in entirely secure peace!
God's strength holds me in watch; earth and abyss must fall silent, however much they might rumble.

You, however, are not of the flesh, but rather of the Spirit,
since the Spirit of God lives in otherwise in you.
Anyone, however, who does not have Christ's Spirit, is not His.

Away with all treasures, you are my delight, Jesus, my joy!
Away, you vain honors; I don't want to listen to you; remain unknown to me!
Misery, want, torture, shame and death shall, although I must suffer much, never part me from Jesus.

However if Christ is in you, then the body is dead indeed for the sake of sin;
but the spirit is life for the sake of righteousness.

Good night, existence that cherishes the world! You do not please me.
Good night, sins, stay far away, never again come to light!
Good night, pride and glory! To you utterly; life of corruption, be good night given!

If the spirit of him who has raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you,
So will the same one who has raised Christ from the dead,
bring life to your mortal bodies, because of His spirit that dwells in you.

Give way, you spirits of grief, for the Lord of joy, Jesus enters in.
For those who love God, even their sorrow must be of pure sweetness.
Even if I must endure mockery and scorn, yet you remain, even in suffering, Jesus my joy!*

In Christ, all of life has meaning.  In Christ even suffering can be rich.  In Christ there is triumph over sin and victory in death.  The answer to it all is Jesus, My Joy!  When Jesus is your joy in life, He will be your joy in death as well.


*There are other English translations available on the internet.  I've merely copied the text provided in the concert program.

1 comment:

HYDRIOTAPHIA said...

While music is often under-estimated for its healing power and spiritual value to the listener, the performer is well-aware of it's therapeutic worth.

J.S.Bach's music is probably the most wholesome and sanest of all classical composers, embracing both the sacred and secular, the vocal and instrumental with equal ease. Great post .