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Devotion Remembering Johann Walter, the First Lutheran Kantor

Johann Walter helped Luther adapt and create music that worshipers could understand and participate in. Today we read a biographical devotion about Walter from Celebrating the Saints. We also read an excerpt of a poem Walter wrote describing the life of Luther.

Devotional Reading

Isaiah foretold that when God brought His people home from their exile it would be accompanied with song: “And the ransomed of the LORD shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (Isaiah 35:10; emphasis added). In fulfillment of that, the Church’s life in this age has always been filled with music, and music requires musicians.

Martin Luther himself was a man of musical ability. He realized, though, that he didn’t know enough on his own to tackle the challenges that were before the Church. He needed help in setting the office hymns and liturgy of the Church into the vernacular and in creating a body of hymnody in the language of the people. He needed the help of professional musicians. He turned, above all, to the man commemorated this day, Johann Walter.

Johann Walter was Luther’s junior (born in 1496 in present-day Thuringia). He studied music and at the relatively young age of 21 began to serve as composer and bass kantor in Frederick the Wise’s chapel. He rapidly became persuaded of the truth of the Lutheran cause and devoted his considerable talents toward furthering the joy of the Gospel through music that paired beautiful melody and harmony with the Word of God. In fact, he published the very first Lutheran hymnal in 1524, titled Eyn geystlich Gesangk Buchleyn, for which Luther himself provided the preface. In it he wrote, “I would like to see all the arts, especially music, used in the service of Him who gave and made them.”

Johann Walter certainly agreed and gave his whole life to composing and making music for the Church. For most of his ministry, he served as kantor in the city of Torgau. The Church still sings his settings and hymns today. . . . For Johann Walter and all those who assist the Church in singing, ringing, sounding forth the praises of God, telling of His great salvation in Jesus Christ: glory to You, O Lord!

Devotional reading is from Celebrating the Saints, pages 66–67 © 2016 William C. Weedon. Published by Concordia Publishing House.

Poem

Therefore, O Jesus Christ, our Lord,
With Your relief attend us!
Vain is the help that men afford;
Alone Your comforts mend us.
Come, Lord our God, with mighty pow’r
Your own high cause defending.
Grant us to watch until Your hour
While in the faith contending.

Poem is from Luther’s Works, Companion Volume (Sixteenth-Century Biographies of Martin Luther), page 99 © 2018 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.

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