St Matthew Passion Day Two

The following is part two of my Holy Week Reflections on J. S. Bach’s St Matthew Passion. I will include a little information each day along with scripture, musical examples and translated text. The Spotify Playlist at the end of each post will be the complete highlight playlist.

I hope you will join me as we travel through just a portion of this most sublime work.

The Arrest of Christ ( Kiss of Judas) Giotto, 1304-1306, fresco, Scrovegni Chapel, Padua Italy, Image Source

The Basics

Johann Sebastian Bach’s St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244) written in 1727 for a Good Friday service in 1727 at the Church of St. Thomas in Leipzig, Germany.

A Passion is a musical setting, without staging, scenery or costumes, of the Passion of Christ. The practice of Passion plays had existed since the Medieval times and became the primary focal point of Good Friday Lutheran worship services. As you read through chapters 26 and 27 and experience Bach’s music, you realize that these chapters are a long series of tension filled moments. Bach knows this only to well as he writes this music.

The chorus of Bach’s day would have been made up of men and boys and there are certain places that would have been intended for the choir which were more trained and rehearsed. In other chorale portions the choir would have been joined by the congregation.

I most heartily desire that music, that divine and most precious gift, be praised and extolled before all people. However, I am so completely overwhelmed by the quantity and greatness of its excellence and virtues that I can find neither beginning nor end, nor adequate words and expression to say what I ought.

Martin Luther (1483-1546)

The Music

I must confess that left on my own, I can sometimes read through the passages of Jesus’ passion very quickly. We live in a time that is so fast paced and there is so much we are forced to get through and select, I have become really adapt at skimming things. I am also guilty of thinking, I know this part of the story and I don’t need to read it again this year. Or maybe, I can’t read it again because it is just too hard. What ever the case may be, Bach doesn’t allow us to rush through. He pumps the breaks and insists that we stop and really live in the moment.

This number is highlighting the moment of Jesus’ Betrayal and the listener cries out in his own heart: “Loose him! do not hold him, do not bind him”

Bach highlights this moment with tenor and alto voices singing a melody that is twisting like the serpent in the Garden of Eden. The orchestra takes on this ticking clock quality that tells us the final scene is started and the events will move quickly now to the horrific conclusion.

The Scripture Text

While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived.

With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: ‘The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.’ Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, ‘Greetings, Rabbi! and kissed him.

Jesus replied, ‘Friend, do what you came for.’

Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him.

Matthew 26: 47-50

English translation:

Soprano & Tenor: So is my Jesus captured now.
Chorus: Loose him, do not hold, do not bind him!

S & T: Moon and light
Are quenched for sorrow,

Because my Jesus is captured.

Chorus: Loose him, do not hold, do not bind him!

They lead him away, he is bound.

Chorus: Have lightnings, has thunder vanished in the clouds?

Open your fiery pit, O hell;
Wreck, ruin, engulf, shatter
With sudden force

The false betrayer, the murderous blood!

Below is the entire playlist for the week. Today we are listening and reflecting on track two.

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