Across the Pastor’s Desk: The Gospel according to Bach

Published 8:00 pm Friday, April 19, 2024

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Across the Pastor’s Desk by Josh Enderson

I’m a fan of the work of the Baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach. Bach was a prolific composer and a Lutheran, and his faith was often seen in his work, earning him the title “the fifth evangelist.”

Josh Enderson

One of his greatest works is his “Mass in B Minor.” This work is a setting of the music sung during a communion service. One of my favorite parts of the work is his setting of the “Credo” or the Nicene Creed.

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In the second section of the Creed, the part about Jesus Christ, Bach starts with slow and mysterious music as the life and crucifixion of Christ are retold.

Then, suddenly, the choir and instruments burst in and joyfully sing “Et Resurrexit,” (Latin for “And he rose again…”) proclaiming the resurrection of Christ. It is a reminder of the joy and excitement that the Easter message of life brings.

But, the powerful thing is that Bach is not done with his story, because our faith story isn’t done yet. As he moves into the third section of the Creed (about the Holy Spirit, the life of the church, and the hope of things to come) another surprise happens.

Again, the music begins subdued and reserved as we hear about the church, baptism, and our life of faith. But then we get to the words “Et expecto,” (“And I look forward”) and the choir gets slow and mysterious, repeating these words in Latin over and over: “And I look forward, and I look forward…”

And then suddenly, the trumpets return and the choir bursts forth again, repeating the same tune as before about Jesus’ resurrection, singing “And I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.”

Why talk about Bach’s Mass in B Minor during this Easter season? Because it reminds us that the death and resurrection of Jesus aren’t events of the past to look back at and admire, as if we were just watching some movie about the passion.

These are profound events into which we are all, as children of God, joined. Paul says in Romans 6:5 “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”

By using the same tune and the same exuberant joy to describe Jesus’ resurrection and the resurrection of all of God’s children, Bach put these words of Paul into music.

In baptism, we are joined into this death and resurrection. Every day we remember that we were washed in the waters of baptism, renewed and freed from the sin and death to which we are bound. The light of that Easter morning reminds us that God’s light shines bright. Even through the darkness, God’s love and resurrection hope break through.

May the resurrection light of this season shine upon you and may the Easter message of life and hope in Christ empower and enrich you during this season.

Josh Enderson is pastor at Hayward and Trondhjem Lutheran Churches.