This week I had the good fortune to attend a free concert put on by the cute little undergrads at my current alma mater in which they sang Bach’s Wachet auf, ruf uns die Stimme. I usually like it when the conductor takes the time to explain the context of the work to be preformed – it makes me feel smarter – but the conductor in this case was almost half my age. He explained it thus:
Bach, like, really went obscure and picked a Sunday in which, like, nobody goes to church but still wrote this beautiful music for it, which shows how intense the guy was.
So when I got home I looked it up on Wikipedia and found that the young conductor was… not wrong. Per the Lutheran calendar the cantata was preformed on the 27th Sunday after Trinity, which is only celebrated when Easter comes early and otherwise is covered by Advent which has to start four weeks before Christmas. Lutherans don’t often go to church for the liturgy of the 27th Sunday because most years there isn’t any, they are celebrating the first Sunday of Advent instead. It is analogous to the Catholic 34th Sunday of Ordinary Time which is usually swallowed up by the Solemnity of Christ the King.
The words are taken from the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, the Song of Solomon, and the Apocalypse. Why, what disparate sources! you think, but you are wrong.
The liturgical year recreates the pattern of the life of Christ which, according to the deep theology of the second century, recapitulates the history of the cosmos. For example, Easter is both the summation of all human history and a celebration of Creation, because it is the celebration of the New Creation.
Christmas celebrates the first coming of Christ, but also the second coming of Christ. The wrapping up of the liturgical year before Advent therefore always recalls the end of the world (or the end of your life, the same thing as far as we are concerned) and the dawning of eternity. Hence, the parable of the wise and foolish virgins goes quite well with the Song of Songs and the Apocalypse.
And as 2016 reminded us, the end of the world is now. The world is always passing away.
Read the words and listen to movement 4, and realize why we associate this little interlude with weddings.