Every August, our family makes a pilgrimage to the Delaware shore. At least once during our stay, some of us get up in the dark and walk down to the beach to watch the sun rise over the Atlantic. BWV 96 reminds me of these mornings.

The first movement evokes our sleepy anticipation of the sky growing brighter as the sun begins its journey across the water to us. The morning stars are fading, the waves surge and fall back, and the shorebirds skitter back and forth across the sand.

After the alto assures us that God has unlocked heaven and padlocked hell, the tenor and the flute’s “skeins of love” wrap us in a gorgeous musical blanket to ward off the morning chill. As the sun inches higher, its reflection skips and jumps across the water toward those gathered on the sand. Are we waiting for the sun itself or its reflection? Yes!

Today this cantata reminds me of the reliable, yet surprising, beauty of these mornings at the beach. Tomorrow Bach might evoke something else entirely. In my almost 14 years at Emmanuel, I’ve found the cantatas spectacularly specific and eternally evolving. Like a sunrise at the beach. And love. And life itself.

Joy Howard
Emmanuel Church parishioner