On today’s commemoration of Johann Sebastian Bach, we read a devotion from Johann Sebastian Bach and Liturgical Life in Leipzig.
The life’s work of J. S. Bach was focused on serving the Church with his musical gifts. Today, we thank God for giving Bach such extraordinary musical talents and for helping Bach use them to His glory.
The question concerning Johann Sebastian Bach’s attitude toward the worship of his time may in many respects be answered even by reference to his way of life alone. It is at all events worth noting that, with the exception of a little over five years of activity in Köthen, Bach’s entire professional life was spent in cities in which the Lutheran Church and its worship still occupied a central position. If we consider that the number of cities of that kind, especially since the beginning of the 18th century, was declining rapidly, that Lutheran orthodoxy, except in the Thuringian-Saxon area, maintained itself longest in northern Germany, and that Bach’s eyes again and again were turned toward Germany’s North, the fact that Bach’s life was spent in cities that bore the imprint of the spirit of Lutheran orthodoxy cannot be a matter of chance. Also Bach’s brief activity in Mühlhausen, barely a year in extent, and his hasty effort to leave there seems to confirm the fact that Bach was fully aware of the importance of orthodoxy for the work of the church musician.
Not only Johann Sebastian Bach’s way of life but also his life’s work is able to inform us concerning his attitude toward the worship of his time, for by far the largest portion of Bach’s works were composed for the Lutheran service and were performed there. And in view of our previous observations, the course of Bach’s life conspicuously steered toward the liturgical office and work again and again and Bach on his part also actually sought this liturgical work and sought it on the native soil of Lutheran orthodoxy. . . .
When we thus realize that Bach with Luther and Lutheran orthodoxy was convinced that the whole area of music must serve “to the glory of God and for the restoration of the heart,” we can understand that Bach could place at the head of his compositions, both those specifically intended for the church and for worship and also the “secular” works, the prayerful sign “J. J.” (Jesus, help!) and could conclude all of these works with the song of praise “SDG” (To God alone the glory!).
Devotional reading is adapted from Johann Sebastian Bach and Liturgical Life in Leipzig, pages 200–201, 211 © 1984 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.
Lord Jesus, I thank You for putting music in my life. . . . Music is praise, in church or world, good Lord, for Your continuing forgiveness and love. Let this praise be heard in Your church through new forms and old in quietness and in strength. Make my life a song of praise that lasts forever. Amen.
Prayer is from Help It All Make Sense, Lord!, page 56 © 1972 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.