Last night I saw a fabulous performance of Handel’s Messiah. The Lawrence University Symphony Orcheestra, Viking Chorale, Cantala (the choir Elena sings in) and Concert Choirs all deserve congratulations for their tremendous work.
Although I’ve seen the Messiah performed on any number of occasions, it has always been during the Christmas season, which has become the traditional time for performing it. Last night I saw it almost at the same time as Handel’s first audience, who saw it first performed 11 days after Easter.
Seeing it like this during the Easter season was a very powerful experience. For me, it had something of the same flavor of the Easter Vigil, during which we hear readings that chronicle our salvation history. In the glow of the Easter season, I listened to the prophesy and realization of God’s plan of redemption through the coming of the Messiah (Part One of Handel’s work), the accomplishment of that redemption through Jesus death and resurrection (Part Two), and the hymn of thanksgiving at the final defeat of Death (Part Three). It is hard to describe – but there was a special beauty and power in hearing the story told yet again, coming so close on the heels of the Triduum and Vigil.
It is the tradition that audiences stand during the Hallelujah Chorus of the Messiah, and last night’s audience did not depart from the tradition. (The tradition reputedly dates to the first London performance of the work.) I don’t know why others in the audience stood. Probably many or most did just because they know it is the tradition. Probably some stood because they saw others doing it and figured they were supposed to.
I know why I stood. I stood to honor the King of Kings to whom my life belongs. I stood as an expression of joy at the resurrection. I stood in awe of what God has done and continues to do in the world. And I stood to express my embrace of the truth of the words of that chorus.
Hallelujah! for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth.
The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord,
and of His Christ;
and He shall reign for ever and ever.
King of Kings, and Lord of Lords.