Saturday, January 12, 2008


In many Christian communities today, the first Sunday after the Epiphany is when we remember Jesus' baptism. The readings in the traditional lectionary, however, point to the story of the young man Jesus in the temple (Luke 2.41-52). This account reflects the third of Mary's Seven Sorrows, a traditional devotion that recalled seven grievous episodes in Mary's relationship with Jesus.

Bach's cantatas for this Sunday are meditations on this Scripture. BWV 154 begins with a poignant cry, "Mein liebster Jesus ist verloren" (My dearest Jesus is lost!). Any parent who has felt the sudden panic of having a child disappear from sight can relate to this rush of emotion. The words take us beyond these tender human bonds, however, into the spiritual angst of feeling that one has lost contact with God.

My dearest Jesus is lost:

Oh word that brings me despair!

Oh sword that pierces through my soul,

Oh thunderous word in my ears.

After a lovely chorale describing what Jesus means to the faithful and the deep longing for his presence to fill their hearts, the alto lifts up an aria, pleading with Jesus to appear once more.

Jesus, let me fnd you,

do not allow my sins

to be thick clouds

where to my horror

you will be hidden from me.
Appear again soon!

In the depths of winter, dark days and chill winds can mirror the gloom of spirits trudging through life without a sense of Christ's presence. Bach seeks to rouse us, to make us feel the urgency of Jesus' earthly parents, to leave our plodding caravans and call out for him until he answers and comes home with us again.

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