It is the first Sunday after Christmas, and also New Year’s Eve! Enjoy some music from one of the greatest composers who ever lived as we close out 2017. The title of today’s cantata is “Erfreute Zeit im neuen Bunde” (Joyful time in the new covenant).
Bach composed the cantata for the feast known as the Purification of Mary. The readings for that day included the same Gospel reading you are likely to hear in church today: Luke 2:22-40:
When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”
Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.”
The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.
The text of today’s cantata is available here. The fourth movement contains this passage:
Yes, though your faith still sees much darkness,
your Savior can part the shadows of doubt;
indeed, when the night of the grave
makes the last hour terrifying,
you will certainly
perceive His bright light in death itself.
This invocation of the image of the Lord’s light accompanying one’s death is reminiscent of Simeon’s praise quoted in the above Gospel passage.
The final chorale, at 16:15 in the recording, is based on Martin Luther’s “Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin” (In peace and joy I now depart), a hymn written for the Purification feast, but which has also been used for funerals. Here is a lovely version of that hymn played on classical guitar: