“Is this your first Messiah?”
“Oh no, I have had about half a dozen Messiahs. I think the best is always the current one.”
“Remember our last one, with Chris? There were a few scary moments in that one’s performance.”
Lines from Monty Python’s The Life of Brian? No, this was the sort of surreal conversation I encountered at my first night of rehearsals for Handel’s oratorio, Messiah, with the Newcastle University Choir. In truth, this was both my first ever attempt at singing in public and my first membership of a choir. So this was my first Messiah.
I am familiar with seeing the work performed around Christmas time. This first rehearsal was at the beginning of Lent with the performance after Easter and I was to find practising Messiah a great way of experiencing this season.
Everyone has heard the Messiah’s Hallelujah chorus although many wouldn’t be able to say who wrote it or be able to name the work in which it is based. The words of Messiah are almost entirely taken from the scripture passages that refer to the life, death and resurrection of Christ. To these, Handel has put some very catchy melodies and interesting musical patterns.
Over our weeks of rehearsals I would often find myself whistling, singing and humming parts of Messiah. If I were a person of no faith I might just enjoy the music. For me, the music and its lyrics kept bringing me back to key scripture messages such as:
“The glory of the Lord will be revealed” (Is 11:5);
“For unto us a child is born” (Is 9:6);
“Glory to God in the highest” (Lk 2:14);
“Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29);
“And with His stripes we are healed (Is 8:5);
“He trusted in God” (Ps 12:8)
“He is the King of glory” (Ps 14:9)
“Blessing, and honour, glory, and power be unto to him and unto the Lamb” (Rev 5:13)
Over the Lent and Easter period, Messiah became my spiritual compass, bringing me back to key themes of the season which I was then drawn to reflect on again and again. These repeated reflections kept the Jesus story alive in my thinking. Different events in my day were affected by my active consideration of Jesus' life, death and resurrection. I could see how my life and the lives of others matched Jesus' struggle and I was caught up in the hope that God will bring all to good, as happened in Jesus' resurrection.
I would encourage all music lovers to come to the performance of Messiah on 21 April 2013. It has music and harmonies that take you on a fantastic journey of anticipation, joy, pain and stirring triumph. I am sure that people of faith will enjoy the musical aspects of Messiah but they need to take heed of this caution. The music of Messiah gets into your head and will repeat on you for days afterwards. Messiah tells the story of our Messiah and it is told with Scripture. These passages of Scripture can then become powerful God encounter points. It can be a time of experiencing Jesus Christ again – as our first and always Messiah.
Article by Lawrie Hallinan. For more information about the performance on 21 April, view the booking website.