Official Publication of the LMS-USA

August 2000

Volume 7, Number 3

In this Issue:


The Lutheran Ministerium and Synod describes itself as, Biblical, Confessional, Evangelical, Liturgical, and Congregational. While all these terms are good descriptive terms, they, at the same time, depending on one's background and present leaning, can mean quite different things to different people. In fact, even a term like Evangelical, a term with roots in the New Testament Scriptures, can have vastly different meanings to different persons. It is with this in mind that the following chapter from a small volume by Selmer A. Berge has been included in this issue of Table Talk. Berge sets forth for us an understanding of Evangelism that is at the heart of what the LMS considers Evangelism to be, and which it believes is also biblical.

Berge's little volume was written and published in 1943, thus the reference to 100 years as he begins. Now better than 50 years later these words are still well worth our consideration.

2000 LMS Conference / Convention -- A Brief Report

It was not as large a gathering as had been hoped, but we did have pastors and lay representatives from seven states. And, without question, it was one of our best gatherings yet.

The Conference focused in on the practical side of what it means that we are evangelical. There were seven presentations dealing with matters such as, what it means to be evangelical, our practice of liturgy, preaching, the Lord's Supper, music, etc. Good discussion followed each of the presentations.

As in the past, these presentations were taped. However, the man who has done our recording in the past was not able to be present and the 'make shift' recording we did manage was not up to the quality of the past. But, the material is there for those who would desire a copy.

The convention approved the applications of three new pastors and the applications of two new congregations (in Michigan and Tennessee).

Two matters were discussed and put on the agenda for next year.

  1. An attendance policy for our Annual Conference / Convention for pastors and congregations and for our pastors at the annual ministerial meeting.
  2. Who has a vote at our synod meetings.
At present each subscribing congregation has one lay vote and each subscription pastor with a recognized call has one vote. However if a subscription congregation has more than one Subscriptional pastor under call the congregation has only one pastoral vote.

The discussion centered on whether some of those who have been given church wide responsibilities, such as seminary president and/ or director of financial benefits should also have a vote. And, if so, how do we protect the balance of lay to clergy votes.

Committees were set in place to plan for a national women's organization and a national youth organization. Hopefully things might be in place so they could become a reality at convention time next year.

If you have ideas / concerns on any of the above matters, send them (either letter or email) to the address for the LMS president / pastor which you find on the back of this publication. He will see that the suggestions get sent to the proper committee.

The dates set for the 2001 Conference / Convention are June 22-24. We will begin Friday and wrap things up by the middle of the afternoon on Sunday. The hope is that there can be more laity in attendance if the general sessions can be held on Saturday and Sunday.

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How Being Evangelical Affects our Communion Practice
by Rev. John Erickson

The following paper was presented to the LMS-USA Annual Conference held at St. Matthew Lutheran Church, Indianapolis, IN, June 11, 2000. The annual conference is a forum where clergy and laity together hear and discuss papers dealing with theology and church practice. This year papers focused on our description of ourselves as evangelical. This particular paper evoked discussion on our Communion practice, and is presented here for your reflection. Readers wishing to respond to this article may do so by letter to:
Table Talk, P. O. Box 31, Chetek, WI, 54728.
Or by email to

I would guess we are all familiar with the historic Lutheran understanding of the church, that it is "the assembly of all believers among whom the Gospel is preached in its purity and the holy sacraments are administered according to the Gospel." [The Augsburg Confession, Article VII]. Article seven continues, "For it is sufficient for the true unity of the Christian Church that the Gospel be preached in conformity with a pure understanding of it and that the sacraments be administered in accordance with the divine Word."

The focus of our conference this year is on what it means that we, as a church, describe ourselves as being evangelical. As I understand the term, evangel has to do with the "good or joyful news" and the term evangelical has to do with "proclaiming that good news." The good news we have to proclaim is the same good news the angel proclaimed to the shepherds on the hillside outside Bethlehem long ago, "a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:11). Or, as the Apostle John expressed it, "God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (Jn. 3:16). The good news centers in on a person, the Savior of the world, the God / Man, Jesus Christ. And He who is the good news is the one who gave to his followers the task of witnessing of Him to the world (Acts 1:8).

The church that is evangelical then, is the church that gives witness to the Lord Jesus Christ; that proclaims the good news that He is the Savior sent to the world to save us all from sin, death and hell. This 'good news' that is central to the message of the church is that which is found within the pages of what God himself has revealed to man in the pages of his Holy Word, the Bible. The words of Holy Scripture are more than mere words as we most often think of words as being. God's words are living words, words that are, in the truest sense, alive, and that have the power to give life.

We are familiar with the first chapter of the Gospel of John where it is Jesus himself who is spoken of as being the Word. It is that Word that we read of as being present with God in the very beginning, and who, by merely speaking a word, brought into being all that exists and without whom nothing exists that has been made. John goes on to point out that in Him, in that Word, "is life."

All men, as a result of the fall of Adam, enter this world separated from God and dead in trespasses and sin (see Romans 3 for example). The only thing that can deliver man from his lost and hopeless condition, is the power of that Word sent from God. And this is what the "good news" the "joyful news" we are speaking of is all about, namely, that this Word of God has come into the world, and he alone has the power to make all things new. In the words of the Old Testament prophet, he has the power to "give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you and to remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh." The result of this is that those the Word so operates on, are changed, so that rather than living godless lives, they will be made over "to follow God's decrees and be careful to keep his laws" (Ezek. 36:26). All this that can take place in the life of a condemned sinner, God states in these words, "I will save you from all your uncleanness." (v. 29). In the New Testament the results of this power to change a man is described this way, "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (II Cor. 5:17).

The same Word who, in the beginning breathed into the dust he had formed in his hand so that it became a living soul, and who later became the Word become flesh, and who took upon himself the sin of all the world and died on the cross of Calvary for all of sinful man, and who was raised to life once again by the power of God, is still active in the world today to save men, women and children from condemnation by forgiving their sin, restoring them in their relationship with God the Father, and giving them the sure hope of resurrection to life everlasting in heaven. This is the good news. This is the joyous news we as the church are given to share with the world. Sharing this news is what makes us evangelical!

What are the implications for our practice of the Lord's Supper if we are truly an evangelical church?

I have tried to show that it is the Word that has the power to change lives. Actually the means our Lord instructed us to use to make disciples is that we are to baptize and teach (Matt. 28:19). As we look into what this all means, and how it works, it soon becomes apparent that, as I have tried to demonstrate, it is the Word of God that has the power to change man. What we are to teach is the Word of God. Not adding to it, not taking anything away from it, not trying to make it say something it does not say, not trying to make it say something more than it says, but simply teaching the plain Word of God so that the Holy Spirit can make that Word have its effect in those who will believe.

In addition to the teaching of the Word, the Great Commission also mentions baptism. I will not get into this in this paper, but as we know, it is the Word of God that makes it possible for the water of baptism to do its work. "When this water is joined to the Word of God and used according to the command of Christ, it is Christian Baptism, and it becomes the gracious water of life as St. Paul writes to Titus, 'He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior...' (Titus 3:5,6). [An Explanation of Luther's Small Catechism]. Here we have another means God uses to make a change in man. But remember, it still comes back to the Word, it is the Word that makes the water of baptism efficacious.

In addition to the spoken and taught Word and baptism we also find that God has chosen to do his work in our lives through another Sacrament, the Lord's Supper. When the meal was instituted, our Lord told his followers to "do this in remembrance of me." But more than merely something being done in remembrance, our Lord spoke of a benefit that comes to those rightfully receiving of the elements of the meal. Of the cup Jesus said, this is "my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." (Matt. 26:28). So we see in what we have briefly looked at thus far, how the Lutheran understanding of the church, really is biblical. Where the Word of God is preached and taught, and where the sacraments are rightly administered, that is where people gather together and God can do his work in their midst. In the faithful preaching and teaching of the Word and in the administration of the Sacraments in accordance with that same Word, we can know that God is indeed present and we can know that it is indeed God who is working among those assembled.

As for an evangelical use of the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper in the Church, I would suggest it means nothing more, or nothing less, than that we invite persons to share in the grace of God even as Jesus himself invited persons to experience that grace in his day. Maybe I should word it this way, that we offer the means of grace freely to all who will receive it. You remember how John writes, "Jesus came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God" (Jn. 1:11-12). To all those willing and open to receive what he had to offer, he gave.

In thinking of this freely offering of the grace of God, there are two issues on which I would like to touch. First, it seems to be that, in the church, we are much more concerned about a proper handling of the Sacrament and especially so when it comes to the Lord's Supper, than we are a proper handling of the Word. I would suggest this is something we need to seriously think about if we are to have any real understanding of what it means to be evangelical.

In my introductory remarks I believe I at least gave some suggestion that there is some kind of connection between the spoken word and the written word and the Word of God made flesh. I'm not sure one can as easily separate these various aspects of the Word as some would like. For example, I think if you look at the Second Commandment in most any catechism you will see that concern for God's name centers in the fact that God's name has to do with all the names given God in the Bible because each name shows me something of who God is and what he does. But we also find that we can lie and deceive by God's name by, among other things, teaching false doctrine, and hypocrisy - in other words - by simply not doing what his written Word says. We also note that the Third Commandment dealing with the Sabbath has a connection with the Word of God in that a proper use of the Sabbath includes not despising God's Word and / or the preaching of it but rather that we consider it to be holy and gladly hear and learn it.

Now, to go against one of the Commandments of God, can there be anything worse than that? In other words, to listen with an 'so what' attitude, or to listen but not heed, or worse yet, to out and out despise it, what could be of greater detriment of one's soul? And yet, we don't hear much of anything said about this in the church. But when it comes to the sacrament, that is something else. We hear much about unworthy eating and drinking. We will hear discussions on how often it should be received and at what age one should be to receive, of how it should be given - at the altar or in the pew, by groups at the altar rail or continuous, served by clergy or lay, whether it should it be grape juice or wine, white wine or red, leaven or unleaven bread, and of how these things and more affect proper and worthy use of the Sacrament. All this, and yet, if it were not for the Word, the Supper would be a mere eating of bread and a drinking of wine.

I believe it would be well for us to think about this, that if the church is defined as the place where the Word of God is preached and the Sacraments are rightly administered, then do we freely offer to all, all that our Lord gives to us a means whereby his grace may be imparted to sinsick and hungry souls? Or do we invite, and then say, "Well, you can take part in this, but not in this." Or, "Maybe it is okay for you to take part in this, but no, you are not ready for that."

I think of occasions in our Lord's ministry where the disciples tried to do just that, to prevent certain ones from receiving from our Lord what he had to offer. Remember the children? The disciples didn't want the children bothering Jesus. But Jesus told his disciples, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." (Matt. 19:14). Or we could think of Bartimaeus who was blind and who was rebuked by many when he tried to get Jesus' attention, but Jesus stopped to help him because he recognized him as one needing help and as one who was ready to receive the help he had to give (Mk. 10:48). Are we at times over protective of the means of grace in our ministry?

And when it comes to the Supper, do we ever pause to think of how our Lord himself intended the Supper be used in the ministry of the Church which he would soon launch? I think of that gathering in the upper room when the Supper was instituted. Is any mention made by our Lord as to who should receive and who should not? As to who was invited and who was not? Our Lord who saw into the hearts of those who were present with him that evening, did he, who knew the heart of one of those present who would soon betray him, announce that there was one present among them who should not be present at table? In fact, from the Gospel accounts, and although I know many have attempted to prove it otherwise, look sometime at Matthew 26:17-30 and ask, "Was Judas present at the first Lord's Supper?" Or read Mark's account in Mark 14:12-26, or Luke's account in Luke 22. Note in Luke how it is after taking the bread and giving it to them saying, "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me" and after taking the cup and saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you", it is then we read of Jesus saying, "the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table." Does it not appear as though Judas was there for the first meal?

Remember, in the Sacrament our Lord offers the forgiveness of sin and as Luther points out, "Where there is forgiveness of sin there is also life and salvation." [Small Catechism, Part V: The Sacrament of the Altar, II]. So, could it not be that our Lord used that meal in an evangelical fashion, holding out to Judas one more time his offer of forgiveness and life and salvation? And I simply ask, "Can we, if we are evangelical as we claim, do any less?"

But there is a second issue with which we must concern ourselves and it is certainly connected to the first, and this has to do with one's worthiness to participate in the meal. Jesus does not share with his disciples anything of this matter of worthiness, but Paul who received direction from the Lord in this matter (see I Cor. 11:23), does deal with it. And so, we must also deal with it.

Remember Paul was not present when the Lord instituted the meal, and so he was given private instruction directly from the Lord in this matter. And because of what the Lord's Supper is, Paul points out that "whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord" (I Cor. 11:27). Then Paul adds in the following verse, "A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup." What does Paul mean, a man ought to examine himself? I have seen and heard all kinds of 'stuff' in this regard. But thankfully Paul gives some help in this too. He says, "For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself" (v. 29).

So what does this mean? What does it mean that I am worthy if I recognize the body of the Lord in my eating and drinking of the meal? Luther helps us with this too. "Who, then, receives the Sacrament worthily? Fasting and bodily preparation are indeed a good outward discipline, but he is truly worthy and well prepared who believes these words: 'Given and shed for you for the remission of your sins.' But he who does not believe these words or who doubts them is unworthy and unprepared; for the words: 'For you,' require truly believing hearts" [Small Catechism, Part V: The Sacrament of the Altar, IV]. It is really quite interesting is it not? Who receives the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation from the Word of God? Those who believe (John 1:12). And who receives the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation from the Sacrament? Again it is those who believe. Here in the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper it has to do with recognizing the body of our Lord in the eating of the bread and drinking of the wine. In other words believing that what our Lord said when he instituted the meal was, and is, still true.

Evangelical use of the meal means that we offer participation in the meal in just this way when it is offered to those gathered in our congregations. But think of what has been done with this thing of examination? A great many have shifted this matter of examination away from the one who is to receive and given that task to the pastor, or to the church board, and in some cases to the church body. And, as far as I can tell, the focus of the examination has less to do with what the perspective communicant might believe concerning the sacrament, than it does with matters having little to do with the sacrament. For example: Is one a member of a particular denomination, or congregation? Has one completed a prescribed course of study? Has one reached a certain age? I even have had brought to me, concern that a communicant be dressed to a certain standard. Now you think about it. Did Jesus make an issue of any of these things? Or Paul?

I do believe that it is clear from I Cor. 11 that Paul had a concern for order; that when it came to administration and participation in the sacrament, that things be done decently and in order. And I believe it is also the case that when behavior was noted among those who came together to worship and commune, behavior that was clearly inappropriate among Christians, he dealt with it (I Cor. 10:14-22; 11:17-22; 33-34). He dealt with such matters because it was a pastoral thing to do in order that those under his shepherding might not bring harm ["judgment" (v. 29)] to themselves. But I would suggest there is a big difference between a pastor watching over and having concern for spiritual well being of the members of his flock who may have judged wrongly, or poorly, or maybe not at all as they ought to have, as over against doing the "judging" for them.

How does being evangelical affect our communion practice? Thinking of all this brought to mind something a pastor with whom I served on staff shared with me. He was a little older than I. I believe he graduated from Seminary in the mid 50's. His mother and he attended a Congregational church in his formative years. As it turned out he attended a Lutheran college and after sensing a call to the ministry it was only natural that he should attend a Lutheran seminary. He told how after studying about the Sacraments, he on one occasion while visiting at home, told his mother that her view of the Lord's Supper was all wrong; that she didn't understand that it really was Christ's body that was given us in the bread, and Christ's blood in the wine. She didn't understand that Christ was physically present in the bread and wine of Holy Communion. She had always mistakenly understood that presence only as some kind of spiritual presence.

After my pastor friend had finished his masterful presentation in which he hoped to set his mother straight, his mother looked at him and asked a simple question, "How do you know what I understand and believe?" It was an excellent reminder to my pastor friend of the fact that while we make determinations on what we see - although sometimes mistakenly - with our eyes, and hear - although sometimes mistakenly - with our ears, the Lord looks at the heart, and knows the heart (I Sam. 16:7).

If we would pause to think about it, we would soon realize it was the wisdom of God that set down that one's participation in the Sacrament should be on the basis of one's self examination rather than that someone else, no matter who it might be, should make that determination.

Now to balance this, do keep in mind that a faithful pastor is also to operate under this charge, that he "Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season' [and that he] correct, rebuke and encourage - with great patience and careful instruction" (II Tim. 4:2). So, without question, there comes a time, when in this area of participation in the Sacrament, a faithful pastor may have to confront an individual as to what they are doing, how they are living, or whatever, when that is obviously in contrast to the will of God. It is a task the pastor must take seriously, and the people must take seriously. After all, the Sacrament is, on the one hand, for sinners, that they might receive the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. But the Sacrament is not, on the other hand, to be brought down, so as to be thought of as some kind of 'magic potion' that will remove one's sins whether they are repentant or not [see Romans 6, or reflect some on that which Bonhoeffer refers to as 'cheap grace' in his volume, The Cost of Discipleship].

Finally, I believe that being evangelical in our practice of the Lord's Supper means that we are up front with people and clear as to our understanding of the meal. If people are to examine themselves honestly as to their participation in the Sacrament, they need to have some idea, some understanding, of how the meal is understood by the church / congregation that is inviting their participation.

Several years ago now, I was in a discussion with a ministerial group involved in providing what was called 'protestant communion' at our local nursing home. I raised the question as to how it was possible with the different understandings of the Lord's Supper, that all the various denominations could come to the home and offer communion to those present, and encourage participation by all, when, at the same time, they would hesitate inviting just anyone to commune in their own churches. Well, I found some of those pastors would not hesitate doing just that in their own churches. They really did practice what you would have to call "open communion." The explanation given by one pastor was that when one receives Communion they do so in line with what they believe. I found it rather interesting, that no matter what the understanding or belief was behind the offering of the meal, the one who received it could accept it for what they believed it to be. Even if the officiant said the bread represented the body of our Lord, I, as a communicant, could receive it believing that it truly was the body of our Lord. Even though the officiant made clear there was no forgiveness as a benefit of the Sacrament, yet, if I wanted to believe that the cup was, in fact, the blood of Christ poured out for the forgiveness of sins, then forgiveness is what is what I would receive.

In contrast to what this pastor suggests, I do not believe we can make of the Sacrament what we want to make of it, no matter what. I believe being evangelical is that we accept that the Sacrament as being what our Lord said it is, and that we offer it and receive it with that understanding. Therefore being evangelical means that we inform our people - if you please, that we challenge our people - as to the biblical teachings concerning the Sacrament and as to what our participation in the Sacrament ought to be. So, for example, in our congregation, our understanding and practice is clearly stated for all to see. It used to be stated in our bulletin as a preface to our order of service on Communion Sundays. Now it is stated on our bulletin back as part of our description of who we are and what we believe as a congregation and as a member congregation of the LMS. Our statement reads as follows:

In light of First Corinthians 11:28: We welcome to the Lord's Table all who:

  1. believe in Christ Jesus as their Lord and Savior,
  2. accept the real and physical presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Sacrament,
  3. have examined themselves and acknowledge their sinfulness,
  4. repent of their sins and seek forgiveness,
  5. resolve with the help of the Holy Spirit to strengthen their faith, amend their ways, and walk in His ways,
  6. understand that without doing the above one can eat and drink to his or her own damnation.
Young persons below confirmation age may receive communion, but it is expected they have received pre-communion instruction.

May the Lord, in his grace, give us insight into what it means to be evangelical in our ministry as a church body, and as individual congregations. And with the help of his Holy Spirit, might we be faithful in our use of the Means of Grace which he has provided us for use in our reaching out to make disciples for Him.

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What Language Shall I borrow To Thank You, Dearest Friend?
by Ralph Wm. Spears

On the 250th Anniversary of the death of the greatest Lutheran musician, probably the greatest musician ever, it seems only fitting to offer up a few lines of proper thanks to the Fifth Evangelist, Johann Sebastian Bach. It hardly seems that 'Sebastian', as his contemporaries called him (to distinguish him from a host of musical Bach's, father, uncles, brother, cousins and sons, forty-six of whom shared the first name, John or Johann), has been gone so long since his incomparable music has grown in importance almost in inverse proportion to the number of years since his passing on July 28, 1750 in Leipzig, Germany! In fact, today you are more likely to hear lines of his music in a television commercial than in Church where all but a very few of his works were intended to glorify the services of Divine Worship! That is the reason for my personal thanks to one who has long been a dear friend because of the glorious lift of 'song' that he has given my soul since first I heard his music.

Most all of his many works were inscribed, "To God Alone, the Glory" - leaving little doubt that he, named for the fourth Evangelist, took seriously the winning, evangelical nature of his musical offerings. More importantly the Gospel's words and meaning, like gems, fit so perfectly with his musical settings, that the Word is indeed enhanced and glorified not only in the actual words from Scripture but by the lyric solos and connecting Scriptural recitatives.

Added to this are the chorales (German choral hymns) of the day in the tender arrangements of Bach put into his many Cantatas and Passions, which voice the worshiper's own response to the living Word. This is but one stroke of genius from this busy compositional 'workman' who penned a full twenty minute Cantata 'Sermon' for each Liturgical Sunday of the Church year, while seldom borrowing ideas, for full choir (four or five parts), soloists, organ and orchestra. Whenever the words of Jesus are sung, they are bracketed by a "halo chord" more effective than the red-letter editions of the Bible. Once in a live concert of these plaintive recitatives set to the melodious accompaniment of flute or oboe (originally more like our English horn) having to do with a personal closeness of Jesus, I could not stop the tears. Yet, soon I noticed a young man two rows in front of me moved in the same way. Such is the stirring nature and irresistible lyricism of Bach's concepts in music.

For all of us there are those times when the trammels of life leave Faith all but shaken and weak. For just such times, for me, come the deep sonorous multi-harmonies of Bach's organ works like reassuring passages of the Psalms or the prologue to the Gospel of John, to remind the soul that God is not only in His heaven but stirring within. Truly no other composer comes close except Dietrich Buxtehude whom Bach walked many miles to hear as a young man, leaving his post ill attended due to his long stay with this master of Northern Germany. Without doubt the young genius of organ composition and performance learned much from the older man.

During this time "Sebastian" Bach sketched the ultimate 'show off' piece for organ, the D Minor Toccata and Fugue, whose opening phrases are now as well known as the opening of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.

Little wonder then that Bach's reputation during his lifetime was primarily as a performer on the King of Instruments, rather than as a composer. He far outstripped all other keyboard artists of his day including Handel. (George Fredrich in fact, born in the same year 1685 and less than 75 miles away from Bach, actually refused to meet his famous contemporary due to his unquestioned renown as a keyboard genius.) Although quite modest about his playing as well as his compositional genius, which included his ownership of the 'Art' of composing the fugue, Bach was the first to use the thumb extensively in keyboard playing on the organ and the clavier. It was said of him that he could easily span an octave and a third (ten white keys) in one hand while using the three mid-dle fingers for added figures and trills.

Mozart's wife, Konstanze, was so completely enthralled by Bach's fugues when Amadeus brought them home for playing, that she insisted that she hear only the fugues of Bach.

Truly these fugues seem close to unlocking the mysteries of creation itself by their hearing with an emotional-rational suspense of intrigue unlike any other experience in the arts. Truly, Bach wrote no accompanying part or line which was not a full and independent melody in itself which is heard at its high development in the intricacies of his trio sonatas. It has been said that one of the most difficult things that a person can do is properly play the three independent lines simultaneously of a Bach trio sonata.

Beyond the ingenious inner workings of Bach's organ compositions, comes the unparalleled thrill of the ideas expressed - at least for me - almost 'too wonderful and high to attain' as Psalm 139 says. This can be heard in so many of his preludes and fugues including his great Pasacalia and Fugue for instance.

But his playful, rollicking, foot tapping Gigue a la Fugue, nearly a rival to the best Dixieland jazz, must be heard to be believed.

Another gift of his compositional skill was to take a simple chorale melody, known to every church goer, such as hymnist Johann Cruger's Nun Danket Alle Gott, Now Thank We All Our God, or Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring, and weave about a counter-melody that rivaled the original melody. In the latter the steady triplet counter melody of Bach is much better known now, than the chorale melody.

Yet among these masterpieces there are exceptional works which reach the apex of compositional excellence. The Mass (Service) in B minor stirs the soul with the highest possibilities of liturgical worship even though it was not composed for actual worship, but as Bach's own exercise. It was never played, at least in its (nearly two hour entirety), during his lifetime and was nearly lost.

The Kyrie of the Mass reaches out, rather cries out, for Mercy, yet sets the stage for the solemnity, the pathos, and yes the utter joy, which is truly Christian worship. The Credo, "I believe", is determined lyrical and indeed triumphant including a marvelous high passage for valveless D trumpet which is a 'bear' to play even today on a modern trumpet with valves. But Oh, the statement of Faith!

As the Creed approaches the mention of Christ's passion in the second article, the music slows, alters and modulates as it captures the nuances of "Crucified, dead " slowing further to almost a complete stop. Finally it resolves with the choir softly, tenderly, and unaccompanied on "Buried".

What happens next was a total and delightful surprise the first time that I heard it and I played it again and again! For suddenly Resurrection bursts forth with exuberance. It marches triumphantly, it dances and struts with each instrument of the orchestra taking a bit of a ride on the theme of new life. But wait, he gives the same to the Hosanna in a four fold affirmation of this ancient expression of unbounded joy in worship - Hosanna in the highest!

But one of my very favorites by my friend, J.S. Bach, is numbered as Cantata #51. Thank God in heaven (as the opening lines of this Cantata literally sing) that this gem was not one of those many cantatas which were lost. [And yes, it is true that a page from one cantata was found wrapped around a piece of meat years later. Paper was not to be wasted then.] With hardly a choir available, Bach wrote this beautiful work in three main sections for one soprano, one trumpet, and orchestra, a beauty to play (which I have several times), the last section featuring variations on the Old Hundred Psalm tune, and a close duet style between high trumpet and soprano.

Not a few music critics have nominated Bach's St. Matthew Passion as the greatest composition ever written. I would agree. When I first heard it I was so moved that I could not sing my part in the opening which is scored for double choir and orchestra. The insistent bass viols, the oboes beginning a wail, and the choirs singing back and forth "See Him" "The Son of God" "See Him" "The Son of Man" and then a third choir intoning "O Lamb of God Most Holy" above all - brings me literally (and musically) to the foot of the Cross. There is just no other way of saying it. HOW DOES BACH DO THIS?! But he does.

No less a musician than Leonard Bernstein began to write a commentary on the many devices, obvious and hidden, that Bach employs in the writing of this magnificent composition - and in over half an hour he had just begun to scratch the surface - by his own admission. For it has as many remarkable features built into it as the Great Pyramid. For the Passion according to St. Matthew, captures the irony of Jesus' words to Judas, the anguish of Peter weeping bitterly, and the absence of that 'halo chord' about Jesus' words on "My God, My God, why has Thou forsaken me"? Was Jesus then indeed human in this moment on the cross, Bach seems to ask.

The St. Matthew Passion was abandoned after Bach's passing in 1750 and many of his works were lost! Some of his musical sons considered the music of their father, Sebastian Bach, as "old wig" of the generation past. That was the opinion of Johann Christian Bach, the London Bach, who had followed Handel to fame and fortune in King George's England.

Carl Phillipp Emanuel Bach, the second eldest son, defended his father's genius in well-written articles. He also preserved and printed many of his father's works for posterity. This included his great Art of The Fugue, which became the basic text for musical composition even to the present day.

Felix Mendelssohn, a gifted twenty-year-old organist- composer, who had become a Lutheran and added Bartholdy to his Jewish name, came upon an old score of the St. Matthew Passion and marveled saying, "We have so very much to learn from this man!" Overcoming great odds and with the help of friends, Mendelssohn and company staged a performance of The St. Matthew Passion in 1829, exactly one hundred years after its first performance in 1729. Such a stir was made by this performance in Berlin that several more presentations quickly followed. One of the biggest problems was finding the musicians who could perform it.

Even the philosopher Goethe became a ready admirer of Bach in this revival of his music in the classic period of the early 19th Century.

"Be Near When I am Dying, O Show Thy Cross to Me!"

Old Bach lay dying, the result of failed eye surgery, which had left him blind. But the old master was not yet finished. Shortly before, he had finished a fugue as a part of his Art of the Fugue on the notes B A C H for his name, the B for B flat and the H in German, the equivalent of B natural, so that the theme for his fugue was a simple, B flat, A, C, B natural. To this he now added his variation on the hymn chorale 'Before Thy Throne Now I Stand'. Totally blind, he dictated this final moving composition to a willing family member, his son-in-law Johann Artnicole, who attended him at bedside. And in the last measures he used something which he had never used before - two closing chords in the 6/4 inversion. The listener is treated to yet one more lesson from the old master as these two chords provide an especially tender and moving cadence - as indeed 'before His throne', Johann Sebastian Bach - 'stood'!

Once as a seminary student I attended a Good Friday service strictly out of habit. All but disgruntled, I didn't really want to be there. The Service of Worship began as usual with far less than my full attention, until the hymn, O Sacred Head Now Wounded, began with the words of Our Lord's sacrifice. The melody comes from Hans Leo Hassler, a composer in the next generation after Martin Luther. The words came from the great Paul Gerhardt, who adapted them from none other than Bernard of Clairvaux. But Bach owns this hymn. By adding many harmonizations, Bach provides yet another dimension to this chorale melody. In fact, each time he presents O Sacred head Now Wounded, it is with a different harmonization. In the St. Matthew Passion it is used effectively as a response to the details of the trial and crucifixion. Even in his Christmas Oratorio, Bach previews our Lord's glorious death even in His miraculous birth. As ever Bach's theology is impeccable! This chorale has thus become the very symbol of motif of the Cross in all of Bach's compositions.

On THAT Good Friday many years ago, the Cross, found me in the back row of the congregation. Especially the third stanza of this masterful hymn, spoke to me personally:

What language shall I borrow
To thank Thee dearest friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow,
Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine for ever,
And should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never
Outlive my love for Thee.

The words found their home. I was still 'standing in that moment' after everyone else sat down. No Good Friday - indeed no regular Service of Worship - has been routine to me since that time!

But in thanking Christ Jesus, my greatest friend, I can not help but thank this friend, Fifth Evangelist Johann Sebastian Bach, for his language of music!

Note: Many libraries have recordings of these works of Bach mentioned above. Most of them, in fact, are going through new recordings and are found at most record stores. Find them and take them home. The listen is more than worth the effort!

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