We have two cantatas for Quasimodogeniti and two others (150 and 158) that are thematically related. The four are “Nach dir, Herr, verlanget mich” (BWV 150, “Unto Thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul”), “Halt im Gedächtnis Jesum Christ” (BWV 67, “Remember that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead”), “Am Abend aber desselbigen Sabbats” (BWV 42, “Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week”), and “Der Friede sei mit dir” (BWV 158, “Peace be unto you”). This is CD 15 in the set. The photo is of a turbaned man from Balochistan, Pakistan.
"Yet I am and shall remain content,
though cross, storm and other trials
may rage here on earth,
death, hell, and what must be…
Cedars must before the tempest
often suffer much torment….
do not heed what howls against you,
for His word teaches us quite otherwise."
BWV 67, from twenty years later, depicts “the perplexed and vacillating feeings of Christ’s disciples... and to maintain the tension between Thomas’ legitimate doubts and the paramount need to keep faith.” The piece does have sections that make a listener feel unsettled! Among Bach’s interesting devices is a transition from dramatic writing for the strings, showing the nervousness of the disciples, into a slow passage depicting the appearance of Christ to the disciples in their room. The text expresses praise and relief for Christ's help as one faces the foes and difficulties of life.
BWV 42 also has the theme of Christ’s appearance to his distressed followers, with an added dimension of Christ’s protection of the church within the difficulties of the world. The disciples in Jerusalem are an example of what happens when evil attacks God's people.
"Do not despair, O little flock,
though the foe is disposed
to destroy you utterly….
Jesus shields His own people,
whenever persecution strikes them."
The last cantata, BWV 158, may be a fragment and premiered on an Easter Tuesday, according to Gardiner. Its theme is the risen Christ's greeting of Peace to the disciples, only in this case Christ's greeting is directed to the distressed conscience.
"Your intercessor stands here.
He has annulled and torn up
your book of guilt…
My heart, why are you so downcast,
since God loves you through Christ?"
I always think that St. Thomas gets a bum wrap as "the doubter." After all, his honest questions, as well as his openness to have them answered, gained him special attention from Christ. Faith is not the absence of distress and questions. Otherwise, we would not need frequent reminders to hold to Christ and count upon his help. These texts and their music don't scold us for having struggles in faith. Instead, they affirm God's trustworthy help when we're in need---and we'll continue to be in need up to and including physical death, as Bach's cantatas frequently affirm.
These may be some of my favorite cantatas yet, not just their beauty but also the theme of confidence in Christ's help. The disciples in Jerusalem had abandoned Christ---and yet Christ did not give up on them and bolstered their faith with his presence. I have not abandoned Christ, but I let a thousand things bother me, cast me down, and irk me like a stone in a shoe, especially in times of distress and uncertainty. Then I berate myself for my poor faith. My troubles fall far short of persecution, after all.
But Christ has "torn up your book of guilt"---and, in fact, he does not count any of our sin and weakness against us. We can and should remind ourselves of this truth again and again and again.
(All translations of Bach's texts are by Richard Stokes, as credited in the CD notes.)