No, this is not Bach. His name is Massaki Suzuki and he’s the founder and conductor of the Bach Collegium Japan. He is drawing huge crowds from all over Japan to his concerts. It seems that many of these music lovers are having their first contact with Christianity through the music of Johann Sebastian Bach! How is that? Mr. Suzuki explains,
“What people need in this country is hope in the Christian sense of the word, but hope is an alien idea here. Our language does not even have an appropriate word for hope. We either use a word meaning desire or another word meaning something unattainable.” A professor said, “Where else in the world do you find non-Christians so engrossed in biblical texts?”
After each of his performances, non-Christians crowd around his podium to talk about topics that are normally taboo in Japanese society — death for example. “And they inevitably ask me to explain to them what hope means to Christians. Get’s me thinking about how I might articulate my answer to that question in an understandable way. How would you explain what hope means to you?
According to one Japanese man’s report, “Bach gives us hope when we are afraid; he gives us courage when we despair; he comforts us when we are tired; he makes us pray when we are sad; and he makes us sing when we are full of joy.”
About three years ago, First Things published an article from which I learned about this Bach boom that’s still sweeping Japan. It’s six pages long, but worth the read. In it, the writer describes the bleak spiritual picture in Japan as well as the encouragement provided by Bach’s music.
Thanks to J. Marty Cope, our church’s choir director, who is organizing a tour for us to travel there this summer to sing music from Bach and Handel and old gospel hymns from America.
All this impacts me as yet another example of the impact Jesus had when he visited Planet Earth 2000 years ago sending ripples of influence on the arts and music as well as so many other influences for good. I just finished reading John Ortberg’s book, Who Is This Man?, which shows the ongoing impact of Christ on so many ways we can live life with dignity throughout history as well as how we can be rightly related to God the Father permanently.
What an appropriate time of the year to listen to a portion of Japanese believers singing St. John Passion.