Hope in the Passion

Roger W. Lowther

August 21, 2023Tokyo, Japan

I gathered with thirty or so others on the top floor of an art space in West Tokyo for a performance of “HOPE” between Good Friday and Easter. The wind blew a light rain through the window as a man danced beneath the dull orange glow of the setting sun. Through the hour-long performance, the dancer grieved the “death” of a man made from newspapers, who came apart little by little as his paper drifted across the wet floor. All the while, we listened to selections from Bach’s St. Matthew Passion.

I thanked the dancer after the performance and asked about his choice of music. “During COVID, I was not able to dance at all," he said. "Everything was cancelled, and it was really hard on me. I often played Bach on the piano, and that gave me hope. I wanted to communicate that hope to people today. The St. Matthew Passion seemed especially appropriate with the content of the dance since it is about a dying man.”

I had been introduced to the audience earlier, since my music was being used in the second half by another performer. I told him that I played Bach in the Good Friday (Japanese: Passion Day) service the day before and would play more Bach for the Easter (Japanese: Resurrection Day) service the following day. He looked a little surprised. “The Passion is a day?”
Good Friday in Japanese is junan-bi, literally “Passion Day.” Millions in Japan know about Christ only because of Bach's junan-kyoku, the “Passion Piece.” They have never met a Christian. They have never opened a Bible. They have never been to a Christian worship service. And yet, through the music of Bach, they know something about the death and resurrection of Christ. And they sense hope in that message.

“How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’ . . . Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. But I ask: Did they not hear? Of course they did: ‘Their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.’” (Romans 10:14–15, 17–18)

I played Bach in a festival the following month. May God continue to communicate his message of hope through darkening skies and rainy storms of this world.