Brother Bach

One of J.S.Bach’s prized books was a Lutheran Bible published in 1681 with commentary by Abraham Calov. This Bible (in three volumes) was discovered in a farmhouse attic in Michigan in 1934. Bach had marked and double marked a variety of scripture passages, as well as Calov’s words of commentary. This one quote of Calov (quoted by James Gaines in Evening in the Palace of Reason, p.221) caught my attention since 1)it is addressed to a preacher and 2)it describes one thing I learned on my long sabbatical walk memorizing John’s Gospel through the mountains last year when 3)Jesus in that same gospel spoke his mind no matter what intimidating crowd was standing before him.

Calov writes and Bach underlines:
It hinders a preacher greatly if he wants to look around and concern himself with what people want to hear and not hear…Rather, as he stands high upon the mountain at an open spot and looks around himself with a free mind, so he shall also speak freely and shy away from no one else, even if he sees a multitude of people and faces. He need not guard his mouth nor take into view gracious or wrathful lords or noblemen, nor consider money, wealth, honor, or power, shame, poverty, or harm; he need not think any further than that he says what his office demands.

Bach was always preaching through his music and stubbornly bucking the system when he wrote his church music in the old-fashioned counterpoint style, taking it to new heights of complexity. Consistently he wrote the church music to preach the text, the Word of God. He did this in spite of peer and political pressure, and always, as he signed the manuscripts, for God’s glory. Bach must have drawn encouragement for his sometimes lonely path from Calov’s words.

How and why does this quote strike me? Because while walking through all those mountains, memorizing Jesus’ talk about truth, I became more convicted of the responsibility to preach (with one’s conversational life, not just from the pulpit) what is true (or Whom I know to be true), not preach what is popular.

Seems obvious. Believe me, it’s not. It’s comforting, however, to know that the musician Bach struggled too. For our sakes, I’m glad he did. Otherwise we might not have had his church music, and without his music I probably would not have wandered my way into a Lutheran church, and if I hadn’t walked into a Lutheran church looking for a job as a musician, I wouldn’t be struggling with how to preach the truth from a pulpit now.

Hmmm, I guess I have you to thank, Brother Bach, for the fact I preach at all. Glad you at least left a Calov pointer or two about how we go about our tasks of speaking the Word whether in music or sermon.