On the Edge of Promise: Sow in Tears, Reap in Joy
A Meditation on “A German Requiem” by Johannes Brahms
Sunday, March 18, 2007
I have been sitting this week with the texts that Brahms chose for his German Requiem. It is an unusual collection of Scripture texts for a Requiem.
The texts, taken together, are almost a celebration of grief. Blessed are they who mourn; They that sow in sorrow, reap in joy; The redeemed of the Lord shall return again; At the last I have found comfort.
The theme seems to be the possibility that we can take sorrow or pain or grief into our lives and give birth to something beautiful and good.
This is surely what Brahms himself did. The German Requiem was an expression of his own grief. He wrote it after the death of his mentor and his mother. He took the grief and pain into himself and gave birth to the Requiem.
This is what composers have done from David writing the Psalms to American slaves composing the spirituals. They have taken the pain, grief and sorrow of life and let it be reborn as beauty.
And it may be what all of us are called to do in some way or another…to take the pain and grief of our lives into ourselves and allow it to give birth in us and through us to something beautiful. Sow in tears, reap in joy.
So I invite you to listen, enjoy, as the choir and orchestra ministers to us this morning. Be aware that this beauty came from Brahms’ own grief and pain. Let is inspire us to allow our pain to become beauty, our tears to become joy.
The following is the text of the Requiem:
A German Requiem Johannes Brahms
Blessed [are] they that mourn for they shall have comfort. (Matthew 5:4)
They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. Who goeth forth and weepeth, and beareth precious seed, shall doubtless return with rejoicing, and bring his sheaves with him.
(Psalm 126: 5,6)
Blessed . . . [are] they that mourn for they shall have comfort.
Behold, all flesh is as the grass, and all the goodliness of man is as the flower of grass; for lo, the grass with'reth, and the flower thereof decayeth. (I Peter 1:24)
Now, therefore, be patient, O brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. See how the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early rain and the latter rain. So be ye patient. (James 5: 7,8)
For all flesh is as the grass. . . .
And yet the Lord's word liveth for evermore. (I Peter 1: 24-25)
The redeemed of the Lord shall
return again, and come with rejoicing unto
How lovely is Thy dwelling place, O Lord of Hosts! For my soul, it longeth, yea fainteth for the courts of the Lord; my soul and body crieth out, yea, for the living God. O blest are they that dwell within Thy house; they praise Thy name evermore. (Psalm 84: 1, 2, 4)
Soprano solo and Chorus
Ye now are sorrowful, howbeit ye shall again behold me, and your heart shall be joyful, and your joy no man taketh from you. (John 16:22)
Yea, I will comfort you, as one whom his own mother comforteth. (Isaiah 66:13)
Look upon me; ye know that for a little time labor and sorrow were mine, but at the last I have found comfort. (Ecclesiasticus, or the Wisdom of Jesus Son of Sirach)
Baritone Solo and chorus
Here on earth have we no continuing place, howbeit, we seek one to come. (Hebrews 13: 14)
Lo, I unfold unto you a mystery. We shall not all sleep when He cometh, but we shall all be changed in a moment, in a twinkling of an eye, at the sound of the trumpet.
For the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and all we shall be changed.
Then, what of old was written, the same shall be brought to pass.
For death shall be swallowed in victory! Death, O where is thy sting? Death, where is thy triumph?
(I Corinthians , 52, 54, 55)
Worthy art Thou to be praised, Lord of honor and might, for thou hast earth and heaven created, and for Thy good pleasure all things have their being, and were created. (Revelation 4: 11)
"Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth," saith the spirit, "that they rest from their labors, and that their works follow after them."
(Revelation 14: 13)