The following is part seven 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.
In this final blog for the series, I am including two excerpts from the Passion. The first is an aria sung by the bass soloists and is absolutely charming. This is the moment of Jesus’ Descent from the Cross, sometimes referred to as the Lamentation of Jesus or the Deposition of Christ. Since we have heard the Soprano and Tenor sing their great acclamations of faith, it seems appropriate that Bach gives the Bass a turn. I am imagining that Bach might be giving voice to Joseph of Arimathea as he dedicates his life to Jesus. But as I listened, I began to think about how the simple melody might represent every man, or the regular guy on the street as he expresses his devotion…lingering in that thought, I was touched to think this might actually be a very personal statement from Bach himself. Just as Rembrandt often painted himself into the scene, I like to think this is Bach’s signature aria. Anyway you choose to listen, it will fill your heart with a little ray of sunshine in this very dark portion of the story.
The ScriptureAs evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb.
~ Matthew 27: 57-61
English TranslationMake thyself clean, my heart,
I will myself entomb Jesus.
For he shall henceforth in me
For ever and ever
Take his sweet rest.
World, begone, let Jesus in!
As we close our brief tour, we must pause and really soak in the beauty of the final chorus. As you would expect it is very somber and sad as it lands this huge work on a minor chord. Remember this would have been the final notes of the Good Friday service which would be followed by the silence of Saturday in preparation for the joyful climax of Resurrection Sunday!!
There are several ways to think of this music. Again you can walk along side the group that remained with Jesus until the end and imagine what it must have felt like for them not knowing what was coming. The little window into Bach’s heart I have discovered over the years, is that I can hear the similarity of this melody to a melody he wrote for Mary to sing to the baby Jesus. Schlauffen Mein Liebster in his Christmas Oratorio. It is touching to hear how he takes the same melody and slows it down and gives it to the choir in a minor key. We are encouraged to hold Jesus to our breast as Mary would have held the baby Jesus.
We sit down in tears
And call to thee in the tomb: Rest softly, softly rest!
Rest, ye exhausted limbs! Your grave and tombstone
Shall for the unquiet conscience
Be a comfortable pillow
And the soul’s resting place.
In utmost bliss the eyes slumber there.
Below is the entire playlist for the week. Today we are listening and reflecting on track seven and eight.