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Sleepers Wake!

Sleepers Wake!

Psalm 146, 147 (Morning)

Psalm 111, 112, 113 (Evening)

Amos 1:1-5,13-2:8

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

Luke 21:5-19

Our Epistle today reminds us of a topic frequently discussed on the First Sunday of Advent–awakening from a spiritual slumber. Musically, it’s traditionally the time of year that the Bach cantata Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (“Sleepers Wake”) is performed. However, did you know that at the time it was written, the cantata wasn’t composed with Advent in mind? Historically, our reading from 1 Thessalonians occurred on the 27th Sunday after Trinity Sunday–a week that was only used in the lectionary contemporary to Bach when Easter came very early. It was not originally written to be in synch with Advent.

Bach wrote “Sleepers Wake” as a chorale fantasia for both organ and voice. His style was frequently to use a small piece of the chorale over and over, as the underpinning to the whole work. In this particular work, it’s the lyrical melody that you hear over and over from the violin section. On top of this, he superimposes a duet where the soprano voice represents the soul and the bass voice represents Jesus.

Our Epistle today reminds us that the business of waking up spiritually is complicated–and, like Bach’s chorale–with many voices rising above a foundation melody. When we chastise ourselves for not waking up sooner, perhaps it’s a good idea to remember we are trying to hear our voice in a very complicated musical work. That takes practice through worship and our spiritual disciplines. We have to understand our range and our skill and not work too far beyond it, yet occasionally challenge its limits. Finally, we have to remember that no one instrument nor solo voice carries the whole work. God’s reign takes a whole ensemble.

What is the melody you hear over and over as the foundation of your spiritual awakenings? Who are the voices you encounter in that duet between your soul and Jesus?

Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid


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