December 2, 2020

2nd Sunday after Trinity: Cantata & Pic of the Week

Barren Land 2015

(Click on picture for larger image)

• • •

Internet Monk has often noted the absence of lament in much of American church culture. Today, we present an example of a Bach chorus of lament from his cantata “Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein” (O God, Look Down from Heaven).

It seems, when lamenting, we humans are wont to return to basics, to strip away frills and embellishments, to simply fall on our knees and cry out to God. The opening chorus from this cantata exemplifies that impulse. In the words of Simon Crouch:

When Bach had to set a severe subject, as he has to here in this chorale cantata based on Luther’s paraphrase of psalm xii., he often reached for musical procedures that were considered archaic even in his own time. In the opening chorus here, he uses a style of choral motet that is associated with Pachelbel, where the accompaniment simply takes the form of a continuo. The result is austere beauty, the altos hold the cantus firmus in long notes while the other parts sing a fugue about them.

In like manner, Julius Mincham comments that, in this work, Bach “reasserts traditional values,” presenting a piece which is raw, bare, and fundamental.

The chromatic harmony induces a harsh and arid quality to this movement which, to the modern ear, may well invoke the cold, lifeless scene of a waterless and barren planet surface. It is reminiscent of the language of some of the later works such as the Musical Offering or the Art of Fugue. …Nevertheless, Bach’s immediate message is that when we live in an environment where God’s word is absent, life may be bare and sterile.

While this may not be the uplifting, delightful Bach, BWV 2 represents the essential, realistic Bach. God’s Word has come to the desert, to make it bloom again. But much remains barren, awaiting resurrection life.

Ah God, look down from heaven
and have mercy yet upon us!
How few are Your saints,
we poor ones are abandoned;
Your Word is not upheld as true,
and faith is also quite extinguished
among all mankind.


  1. Susan Dumbrell says

    The Bach today could be the plea of Hagar asking for mercy.
    So beautiful, asking God for mercy

    Today’s OT reading was of Hagar and her son Ishmael being sent by Abraham into the wilderness of Beer-sheba.
    God heard Hagar’s voice and tears and rescued them with a well of water.

    haiku on today’s sermon.

    look in all places
    listen to a still small voice
    receive His Presence.

    Bless you all this Holy Day.

  2. Robert F says

    a tiny gray finch
    dead by the roadside
    larger than life

    Lord have mercy
    Christ have mercy
    Lord have mercy

  3. I read the descriptions of today’s musical piece by learned musical experts and I read the translation of the words, and it sounds like the last thing I need to subject myself to this morning as I struggle to retain God’s Word to me that all is well. But I give it a try and, lo, my untrained and uneducated ears tell me that all is indeed well, and that even as we pause to bless Robert’s gray finch and Bill’s friend Bo and this child whose childhood has been stolen and whatever it is that brings my own tears unbidden, this all ends on a note of comforting and uplifting and the wiping away of all tears of all God’s children.

    Quite frankly I often find these musical cantatas on Sunday morning dreary and use them as a springboard to the riches of Bach 24/7 at the Global Bach Community for the rest of the day. This morning I lost count of how many times I hit the replay button for this supposed lamentation I find lifting my spirit, until I discovered you can right click on it and set it to loop, which I am doing at least until 11:00 Eastern when The Gospel Train comes on KUVO out of Denver, and I am anticipating further liftment. Blessed be.

  4. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    That “barren land” picture on top looks like the mountains west of Tucson. I see Saguaro Cacti in the enlargement, which puts it in the Arizona-Sonora Desert.