The following is part four 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.
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.
I have spent a life time of listening to and playing Bach’s music. He wrote several beautiful flute sonatas and I remember making it my goal to play his flute sonata in Eb Major when I was a sophomore in high school. I remember that it was a very difficult piece for me because the flute is easily overpowered by the piano and Bach writes these incredibly long phrases that frequently overlap leaving very little time to catch a breath.
It wasn’t until much later that I learned that Bach would put the letters S. D. G. at the end of his church music. These letters stood for Soli Deo Gloria “For the glory of God alone.”
The music for today’s meditation will follow the scripture reading.
The Scripture Text
Now it was the governor’s custom at the Feast to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas. So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, ‘Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?’ For he knew is was out of envy that they had handed Jesus over to him.
While he was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message” ‘Don’t have anything to do with the innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.’
But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.
‘Which of the two do you want me to release to you?’ asked the governor.
‘Barabbas,’ they answered.
‘What shall I do then, with Jesus who is called Christ?’ Pilate asked.
They all answered: ‘Crucify him!”
Why? What crime has he committed? asked Pilate.
But they shouted all the louder: ‘Crucify him!”
Matthew 27: 15-23
For this moment, Bach pairs the flute and soprano, I believe, to capture Christ’s purity and innocence. He creates a heartfelt reflection as the Christian is asked to deeply reflect on Jesus’ sacrifice. Just after the crowd roars: Crucify him! We are reminded:
He has done good to us all.
He gave sight to the blind,
The lame he made to walk;
He told us his Father’s word,
He drove the devils forth;
The wretched he has raised up;
He received and sheltered sinners; Nothing else has my Jesus done.
Out of love my Saviour is willing to die, Though he knows nothing of any sin,
So that eternal ruin
And the punishment of judgment may not rest upon my soul.
Below is the entire playlist for the week. Today we are listening and reflecting on track four.