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Bach Cantata for Trinity 17

by sean.daenzer ~ September 17th, 2008

Ach, lieben Christen, seid getrost BWV 114 “Ah, dear Christian, be comforted”

An excellent cantata in itself that preaches on suffering in the world, our repentance over sin, and confidence in Christ’s salvation. It is especially appropriate to consider this year, since it is tailored around both the Gospel appointed for Trinity 17 (healing of the dropsical man) as well as the Gospel appointed for Holy Cross Day (fruitful grain of wheat).

The opening chorale calls to suffering Christians in comfort, and to urge them to repent- not because they are worse sinners than any other, but precisely as Jesus teaches in Luke 13 concerning those killed by Pilate and by the falling tower of Siloam. It confesses the truth that God sends suffering and affliction upon us, just as he sends days of gladness also. As always, our trust is not in the world or our own selves to keep us through affliction, but it is in Christ who himself sends this cross. The tenor aria echoes the language of Luther’s “In the very midst of life”. Who can we trust and seek refuge in times of suffering? “Thou Only, [Jesus], Thou Only.” It sets up the idea that we come to Christ in weakness.

The Bass sings a recitative paralleling the text of the Sunday Gospel- fitting since the Bass voice sings the part of Christ in the Passions, as the lowest notes are used for Christ’s Words in chanting the Words of Institution. This then is Christ speaking to the Christian, first speaking a harsh Word of Law. He rightly accuses us of suffering at our own hands, the suffering of our own making. The sin of Adam in the garden is primarily against the first commandment, exalting himself above God. The Law humbles sinners, bringing them to repentance. It is death that ultimately humbles sinners, but it is death that is life and deliverance for the Christian.

The third stanza of the chorale brings in the Feast Day text, and connects our death to the way of Christ to the Father (Gang zum Vater), that is, the cross. The grain going into the ground in order to spring into glorious fruit is our death that yields eternal life precisely because we are connected to Christ’s death yielding His glorious resurrection.

The Alto sings a comforting aria in defiance of Death. Now is Death but the gate to life immortal, and the Christian can live without fear of Death. The Savior will keep the body safe in the tomb and recall it on the last day.

And so the Tenor gives a final recitative of exhortation to humble ourselves and *suffer* God’s work on us, entrusting ourselves to the One who made our body and soul, eyes ears and all our members… and still takes care of them. His Love is apparent in both death and life. He preserves us in life, whether He gives suffering or gladness, and He brings us through death into His bosom.

The final chorale gives the connection between life and death that has been hinted at earlier: Baptism. Baptism is where we have been connected with Christ’s death, where we have died. Death comes through Adam, and we have continued in his image. Christ is life, and He brings us into Him through Baptism, keeping us safely from Satan’s grip. In Confession as in Baptism, we are humbled by the Law’s accusing work and brought down from our self-exalting. Thus humbled, it is Christ who exalts us.

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