Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Day of Pentecost

Bach's exhilarating cantata 172, "Erschallet, ihr Lieder, erklinget, ihr Saiten!" (Ring out, you songs! Resound, you strings!) calls upon us to relive the coming of the Spirit, to open our hearts to his loving presence. "Up, up, prepare yourself!" he calls.

O paradise of souls
through which the Spirit of God breathes,
who blew at the creation
the Spirit, who never passes away,
up, up, prepare yourself,
the comforter draws near.

A.W. Tozer once remarked that the people who would be most surprised if the Spirit came upon us in power are those in the church. We are either so used to the status quo, so unaware of spiritual realities, so conservative and resistant to newness or, on the other hand, so attached to shallow sentimentality, emotionalism and entertainment that we fail to allow God to communicate with us in the depths of our hearts, minds and spirits.

Bach will have none of this. Listen to this passionate and thoughtful conversation between a believer (sung by the soprano) and the Holy Spirit (alto). In this gentle, intimate duet, the two melodies are interwoven tenderly to portray the loving give and take of their relationship.

Come , let me wait no longer,

come, you gentle wind of heaven,

blow through the garden of my heart!

I refresh you, my child!

Dearest love, who are so delightful,
abundance of all joys,
I shall die, if I have to be without you!

Take from me the kiss of grace!

Welcome in faith to me,
Highest love, come within!
You have taken my heart from me!

I am yours, and you are mine!

New Testament Christianity knows nothing of a merely academic, intellectual faith. Nor does it allow a faith that consists only of duty and service. As Jonathan Edwards reminded us, "religious affections" that spring from the Holy Spirit pouring out his love into our hearts are part and parcel of the Christ-following way.

How well Bach captures this on the Day of Pentecost!

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