Bach Collegium members singing "O death, where is thy sting?"
Thanksgiving is nigh, so how about two pieces by George Frederic Handel that give thanks? The first is “But Thanks be to God” from Handel’s Oratorio Messiah. The second is Dank sei dir Herr (Thanks be to Thee) which is traditionally attributed to Handel but may have been written in the late 19th Century as a Handel parody by a gentleman name Siegfried Ochs.
“But Thanks be to God” is from the Easter section of Messiah. The text is from 1 Corinthians and reads, “But thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
What victory are we giving thanks for? It could be any victory. I tend toward internalizing such concepts.
In this case, the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ could be the victory of not overeating at Thanksgiving dinner. It could be the victory of getting along with our entire family during Thanksgiving. It could be the dysfunctional Dallas Cowboys winning their football game on Thanksgiving but let’s not expect too much of Jesus.
Bach Collegium San Diego | G.F. Handel: Messiah
O death where is thy sting & But thanks be to God
It used to be so clear as to who and what we would give thanks to. We would give thanks to God for the food we were about to eat because food stability was hit and miss until about 60 years ago.
Who do we give thanks to now? Carl Bosch and Fritz Haber? Bosch perfected Haber’s method of pulling nitrogen out of the air in order to create fertilizer on an industrial scale. According to Science Heroes, these two men have saved over 2.7 billion lives by creating the foundations of modern food stability.
That victory didn’t necessarily come from our Lord Jesus Christ unless you believe that the Christian ideal of telling the truth led to the scientific revolution which led to the industrial revolution which created food stability.
Dank sei dir Herr
Thanks be to Thee (Georg Friedrich Händel)
The second piece, Dank sei dir Herr has text that translates to”
- Thanks be to Thee,
- Lord God of Hosts:
- Thou broughtest forth Your people
- with Your mighty hand
- Israel safe through the sea.
- Lord, like a shepherd
- Thou hast led us;
- Lord, Thy hand protected us
- in Thy goodness tenderly as in ages past.
This one clearly appeals to the Pilgrims making it safely, more or less, across the sea. Of course, cancel culture, with its tyrannical neglect of context, has taken aim at the Pilgrims this year. Crossing the sea was no big deal compared to what they did to the indigenous peoples.
Crossing the sea was a big deal, and had I been on the Mayflower, I would have thanked God to have made it across alive. I would have signed The Mayflower Compact which was the first document of self-government in North America.
What did the Pilgrims do to the indigenous peoples? They got along, for the most part until they involved themselves in a dispute between two tribes which led to the disruption of the fur trade that had been benefitting both sides.
This Thanksgiving I’m going to be thankful for the great music of Handel and Ochs. I’m going to be thankful that I wasn’t a Pilgrim on the Mayflower, and I’m going to be thankful for industrial-grade fertilizer that has been pulled out of thin air.