It was a great performance of The Messiah by the Ulster Orchestra and the Belfast Philharmonic Choir at the Waterfront last night. My soul was lifted and my heart was warmed as I listened to the unadulterated words of Scripture put to music so majestically by G.F. Handel. Christ was honoured and magnified in the words and music, and I rejoiced.
The Waterfront Hall was full of fellow-Presbyterians. I spotted three ex-Moderators, a number of ministers, and numerous elders, plus ministerial brothers from the Reformed Presbyterian Church and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. There is something about The Messiah that appeals to us reformed types. Maybe it’s because it’s so biblical.
The wonderfully seasonal “For unto us a Child is born” and “Glory to God” put me in the mood for Christmas. But the rich Christ-centred biblical theology inspires worship, which is remarkable given that the oratario was written originally for performance in a theatre not a church. But that simply helps us to think more broadly about the nature of worship.
John Wesley attended a complete performance in Bristol Cathedral in 1758. “I went to the cathedral to hear Mr Handel’s Messiah. I doubt if that a congregation was ever so serious at a sermon as they were during this performance. In many places, especially several of the choruses, it exceeded my expectation.”
Handel wrote the music for Messiah in a mere 24 days. When he’d completed the Hallalujah Chorus, his servant reportedly found him in tears. “I thought I did see all heaven before me, and the great God himself!” said Handel. As we left the hall, our friends agreed that we had experienced a little appetiser of heaven as we stood together for that magnificent chorus. Hallelujah!
Note to self: Remember to book The Messiah earlier next year to get the really good seats.