We hear from the Evangelist for the last time, as he completes John’s narration of the physical events of the passion and describes the descent from the cross. John’s is the only gospel to make mention of the visit of Nicodemus to the tomb with spices. This final passage is entirely syllabic, save for two small melismas, reserved to decorate the final two words as the Evangelist takes his leave.



Darnach bat Pilatum Jospeh von Arimathia, der ein Jünger Jesu war (doch heimlich aus Furcht vor den Jüden), daß er möchte abnehmen den Leichnam Jesu. Und Pilatus erlaubete es. Derowegen kam er und nahm den Leichnam Jesu herab. Es kam aber auch Nikodemus, der vormals bei der Nacht zu Jesu kommen war, und brachte Myrrhen und Aloen untereinander bei hundert Pfunden. Da nahmen sie den Leichnam Jesu und bunden ihn in leinen Tücher mit Spezereien, wie die Jüden pflegen zu begraben. Es war aber an der Stätte, da er gekreuziget ward, ein Garte, und im Garten ein neu Grab, in welches niemand je geleget war. Da selbst hin legten sie Jesum, um des Rüsttags willen der Jüden, dieweil das Grab nahe war.

And after this Joseph of Arimathæa, being a disciple of Jesus (but secretly for fear of the Jews), besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus. And Pilate gave him the leave. He came therefore and took the body of Jesus. And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pound weight. Then took they the body of Jesus and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury. Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid. There laid they Jesus therefore because of the Jews’ preparation day, for the sepulchre was nigh at hand. 

The anonymous words of this final chorus express the typical emotional response from the faithful believers which was very common in passion librettos of the early eighteenth century. It has a valedictory, lamenting, keening manner, and is set in the style of a sarabande – a popular baroque dance in triple time, with a slow tempo, and usually in a minor key. Bach was very fond of sarabandes, including them as the third or fourth movement of many of his dance suites, as the closing choruses of both the St John and St Matthew Passions, and as both the theme and the climactic 25th Variation in his Goldberg Variations for keyboard. The music is gentle and soothing, with even the passage about the opening of heaven being treated with restraint. 



Ruht wohl, ihr heiligen Gebeine, die ich nun weiter nicht beweine, ruht wohl und bringt auch mich zur Ruh! Das Grab, so euch bestimmet ist und ferner keine Not umschließt, macht mir den Himmel auf und schließt die Hölle zu.

Rest in peace, you holy bones, for which I will no longer weep, rest in peace and bring peace to me also! The grave, as is destined for you, and holds no further misery, opens heaven to me and closes the gates of hell.

This final, triumphant, life-affirming chorale is the third stanza of the hymn Herzlich Lieb hab’ ich dich (Heartfelt love have I for thee) which was written by Martin Schalling (1532-1608) and published in Leipzig in 1571. The anonymous melody was published in Strasbourg in 1577 and is the only chorale tune used in the work which was not published in Leipzig. The words put at centre stage the Lutheran doctrine of Christ’s conquering of death, and the life after death which awaits us. The music very much looks to the future. The dramatic and emphatic Herr Jesu Christ reminds us one last time of the central figure of the passion. 




Ach Herr, laß dein lieb Engelein
am letzten End die Seele mein
in Abrahams Schoß tragen,
den Leib in seim Schlafkämmerlein
gar sanft ohn einge Qual und Pein 
ruhn bis am jüngsten Tage!
Alsdenn vom Tod erwekke mich,
daß meine Augen sehen dich
in aller Freud, O Gottes Sohn,
mein Heiland und Genadenthron!
Herr Jesu Christ
erhöre mich, erhöre mich,
ich will dich preisen ewiglich!

Oh Lord, let your dear little angels
bear my soul at the very end
to the bosom of Abraham,
and let the body sleep in its little bedchamber
peacefully without pain and suffering
until the day of judgement!
Then waken me from death
so that, full of joy, my eyes
shall see you, O Son of God,
my saviour and throne of grace!
Lord Jesus Christ
hear me, hear me
I will praise you for all eternity!