When the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.
— I Peter 5:4
The liturgical context for Cantata 104, “Thou Shepherd of Israel, Hear Us” is Misericordias Domini Sunday, informally called “Good Shepherd Sunday.” Most modern readers probably associate the Good Shepherd theme with the Fourth Sunday of Easter, placing the theme of Christ the Good Shepherd at the very center of the seven Sundays of the Easter season. But the flock in Bach’s day, and almost universally from Medieval days to the 1960s, expected the portrait of Jesus as the Good Shepherd on the second Sunday after Easter. The Introit declares that the “earth is full of the goodness of the Lord; by the word of the Lord were the heavens made,” declaring from the start of the service that every good gift in this world is under the auspices of the risen Shepherd. The Epistle (I Peter 2:21–25) reminds the faithful of their true calling and their identity as Christ’s sheep: “For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (v. 25). The Verse (St. Luke 24:35b; St. John 10:14) and the Gospel (St. John 10:11–16) draw from John 10, declaring the good news that the Shepherd knows, loves, and even dies for His sheep. His sheep (i.e., the elect), in turn, know their Shepherd, hear His voice, and follow Him. Psalm 23 is curiously absent from the historic propers for this Sunday, but church musicians can easily incorporate it as a choral response or attendant music, as J. S. Bach (1685–1750) did with the Good Shepherd theme in Cantata 104.
Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered,
so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.
“There is one thing to preach, the wisdom of the cross.” These oft-quoted words of Luther come from a sermon fragment from 1515, wherein Luther was answering the question, “What shall I preach?” Hermann Sasse (1895–1976) summarizes what this means for the church, especially as she prepares yet again to ponder on Jesus’ Holy Passion: “The wisdom of the cross, the word of the cross, a great stumbling block to the world, is the proper content of Christian preaching, is the Gospel itself. So thinks Luther and the Lutheran Church with him.” To be sure, the centrality of the cross does “does not mean that for the theologian the whole church year shrinks to Good Friday.” Rather, Sasse says, it means that “one cannot understand Christmas, Easter, or Pentecost without Good Friday” (Letters to Lutheran Pastors, 1:387).
Anniversaries in Sacred Music: One Hundred Years of Singing the Kyrie with Frank Martin and Ralph Vaughan Williams
“Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”
—St. Luke 17:13
Among the significant anniversaries in sacred music in the year 2022 are two musical settings of the Mass, both with origins in the year 1922. Frank Martin (1890–1974) began writing his Mass in 1922. Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872–1958) wrote his Mass in G minor in 1922. Both are scored for double choir, are similar in scope and sequence, and have risen to the top of choral gems of the twentieth century. Please join me this year to explore each movement of both settings, beginning with the Kyrie, with four more issues to follow, arranged according to the seasons and readings of the church year.
On Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs: Psalm 130, “From Depths of Woe” A Musical Post Card from Dresden
O God, condemn us not according to the multitude of our iniquities,
but quicken with Thy plenteous compassion those who confess and return unto Thee.
—From a Collect after Psalm 130
As the church approaches Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent, it is fitting to explore one of the penitential psalms, Psalm 130, with special focus on Luther’s hymn after this Psalm, “From depths of woe I cry to Thee.” Composers of the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries have worked wonders with Luther’s hymn. This issue will focus on three composers—Johann Walter, Matthäus Le Maistre, and Heinrich Schütz—who worked in Dresden and who set Luther’s hymn to music.
In His temple now behold Him, See the long-expected Lord!
— Hymn by Henry J. Pye
Nota Bene: During my ministry in Queens, NY, my wife and I developed a close friendship with Rev. John Stoudt (Emmaus Lutheran, Ridgewood) and his wife, Faith, who taught at my church’s elementary school. During this time (2002–2015), we attended the annual Candlemas service and banquet at Emmaus. Faith was diagnosed with cancer about two years ago and fell asleep in Jesus after suffering a stroke last month. This column on Candlemas and departing this world in peace is dedicated to her memory, 1958–2022.
According to the Gospel Lesson for this day, St. Luke 2:22–40, forty days after his birth, the infant Lord was presented in the Temple to fulfill the promise of Malachi, “The Lord whom ye seek will suddenly come to His temple” (3:1), as well as the Mosaic Law for purifying mothers after child birth (Lev. 12:2–5). Jesus’ parents offered the alternative sacrifice of two turtledoves or two pigeons, the offering of the poor who could not afford a lamb, showing the poverty and humility of Joseph and Mary. And yet, no lamb was necessary because the infant Jesus is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. Simeon prayed the Nunc Dimittis, a prayer of great comfort and consolation for all who hold Christ in the arms of faith and in the Holy Eucharist.
By the mystery of Your holy incarnation . . . Help us, good Lord.
— The Litany
Hymns for Christmastide are generally based on St. Luke’s Christmas narrative (Luke 2:1–21) or St. John’s Prologue on the Word made flesh (John 1:1–14). Hymns expounding on Luke 2 (“Once in Royal David’s City,” “What Child Is This,” et al.) generally focus on the history of the Christmas story and the response of penitent faith. Hymns based on John 1, however, usually proclaim the theology of the incarnation and how the Christ is enfleshed among us: “Not by human flesh and blood, By the Spirit of our God, Was the Word of God made flesh” and “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, Hail the incarnate Deity.” Sacred choral music for the season also follows these two complementary theological paths, which the church year traces from Christmas Eve (usually focused on Luke 2) to the Christ-Mass, with its appointed Gospel Lesson from John 1. Christmas Eve having passed this year, please join me during the Twelve Days of Christmas to explore three settings of selected verses of John 1 in Latin, German, and English, all coincidentally written by composers whose last name starts with the letter “H.”
I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.
Dieterich Buxtehude (1636/37–1707) was a Danish organist and composer of the Baroque period, whose works for the organ represent a central part of the standard organ repertoire. As a composer who worked in various vocal and instrumental idioms, Buxtehude's style greatly influenced other composers, such as his student, Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750), who once walked 260 miles to learn from an elderly Buxtehude, just two years before Buxtehude died. Bach had permission from his employer to be gone for three weeks. He was so impressed with his teacher and the Evening Music series (Abendmusiken), however, that he stayed for three months. Bach’s admiration of Buxtehude, even to the point of being absent without leave and risking his employment in Arnstadt, is just one indication of why Buxtehude, who served St. Mary’s Church in Lübeck from 1668 until his death in 1707, “ranks as the leading composer in Germany between Heinrich Schütz and Johann Sebastian Bach” (Karela J. Snyder, as quoted in German Studies Review 12:2, p. 358).
For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord will give grace and glory;
no good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly.
— Psalm 84:11
Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cantata 79 is one of three sacred cantatas he wrote for the celebration of Reformation Day in Leipzig. In the general scheme of things, it probably lives in the shadow of his Cantata 80, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” with its textual substance drawn from Luther’s famous hymn and a splendid opening chorus that seems to reverberate in heaven itself. But Cantata 79, with a superb chorus, two chorale texts, and fine solos is not to be missed.
[T]his child will be raised to life with Christ in the resurrection on the last day.
— Liturgy for the Burial of a Stillborn
Amidst the plethora of non-military holidays and memorials, there is one that is of special interest to me: October’s Child Loss Month. When I was stationed as Chaplain to the flagship chapel of Navy Region Southwest (central California), I was privileged to participate in a remembrance ceremony every October. On this solemn occasion, those who had lost a child, whether an unborn baby or a young adult, gathered for an evening ceremony to light votive candles, to share their faith stories, and to pray to the God who promises life in the midst of death. Please join me this year to explore three sacred works, based on the propers for burying a stillborn or unbaptized child in Lutheran Service Book Agenda.
Christ, holy angels’ Crown and adoration . . .
Graciously grant us all to share before Thee Heaven’s high glory
— Hymn for the Feast of Holy Angels
Readers who are familiar with the hymn, “Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven” might be interested to know that Hymns Ancient and Modern (London 1861) changed the phrase “Angels, help us to adore Him” to “Angels in the heights adore Him!” (LSB Hymnal Companion, 1:1176). But the change to Henry F. Lyte’s original text did not last, and for good reason. Johann Gerhard (1582–1637) lists four reasons that angels serve and help the believer, even though they are mightier than we. First, it is God’s will that they serve us (Heb. 1:14). Second, our nature is raised in Christ above the angels (Heb. 1:4). Third, they serve us out of love, as does the Lord, who is Love incarnate. Fourth, “because we shall someday be with them in heaven and join their choir in praising God, the angels are happy to serve us here on earth” (adapted from Treasury of Daily Prayer, p. 767). With this in mind, please join me to explore three angelic choral works, inspired by the liturgical texts for St. Michael and All Angels in The Lutheran Hymnal (hereinafter TLH).
Pr Brian Hamer
Brian J. Hamer is Chaplain to Destroyer Squadron 23, Naval Base San Diego, via the LCMS Board for International Mission Services.