March 21st – Bach’s Birthday

Contributing Writer
Pastor Mark Swanson
First Lutheran Church

Daylight Saving Time has arrived and this week announces the first day of Spring. On March 21, day and night are of equal length. With each passing day after that, until June 21, every day grows longer. I look forward to sunnier days, warmer weather, and no snow to shovel. March 21 is also the day my brother was born and it’s the birthday of a lot of other people, some famous, and others not so much. Beside my brother, I also remember well that March 21 is the birthday of the great German composer, Johan Sebastian Bach. I remember Bach’s birthday because he was a Lutheran Christian, like me, except he was one of those famous people worth remembering, unlike me.

Bach was one of the greatest musicians in history. He was born at a time when western culture was transitioning from the age of the Renaissance to the age of the Enlightenment. New ideas developed in science, politics, philosophy, and religion. Individual liberty and religious toleration took hold and contributed to the American and French Revolutions. Music was changing as well, and Bach played a major part. It was Bach who helped emphasize the four-part harmony, which is now the standard for musical composition.

None of this is to say that being born on March 21 influenced what happened later in Bach’s life. It is to say, however, that his life, as a whole, was like a Spring day, moving from one season to the next. Bach saw new possibilities, new ways to express feelings and emotions, and even faith, through musical expression. Some of his musical peers even thought him too radical. He once lost a job because he refused to compose and perform in the style that his employer preferred; Bach did not want to be pigeon-holed in the past, but wanted to try the new.

March 21 is our transition day this season. It marks the birthday for countless souls, Bach not the least of them. The days will grow longer and new things will spring forth. For Bach, music was the means to express his deep faith. The overwhelming majority of his compositions were written for the Church. For many years, his job as organist and choirmaster was to write a new setting of the Mass every week! And he performed this amazing accomplishment while also being expected to prepare and teach catechism classes to dozens of students each week as well.

A new season is coming, a season of new birth, new life, new possibilities. Bach used his talents to announce the new birth we have in Christ. While I remember March 21 as Bach’s birthday, I know that this Spring, on an Easter day, we will celebrate and sing of our Lord’s victory over sin and death. At my Church, I am confident we will sing those praises to the music of Johan Sebastian Bach.

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