Messiah - Handel's Masterpiece

Messiah is a powerful retelling of the Gospel story.  Andrew Wailes claims Messiah is the only work of its time that has seen a continuous sequence of performances over two centuries "through the devotion of generation after generation of conductors, musicologists, choirs, and lovers of music around the world"

Charles Jennens wrote the "libretto," the words, of Messiah by selecting texts from both Old and New Testaments to give a panoramic version of the wonder and the drama of the story of redemption through Christ.  It was these words that Handel set to music.  In just 24 days in the summer of 1741 Handel composed the oratorio Messiah.  That was a staggering accomplishment.

Handel's servant came into his room to find him weeping just after he had composed the music for the Hallelujah chorus.  Handel exclaimed, "I did think I did see all heaven before me and the great God Himself."

Messiah is divided into three distinct movements.  The first recounts the prophecies of the coming of the Messiah, Christ's birth, the angelic announcement and the realisation of God's plan by the coming of Messiah.

Part two of Messiah begins full of sorrow as it portrays the heart-breaking rejection of Christ, the mocking, the sin bearing and the burial of Jesus.  Then the mood suddenly changes as death gives way to resurrection, victory, the evangelisation of the world, the futility of the nations' revolt against Christ and his triumph over them.  This climaxes with the Hallelujah chorus.

Part three of Messiah highlights the ultimate triumph of Christ as redeemer, defeating death, the promise of our resurrection and glorification.  A challenge goes out asking "if God is for us who can be against us.  Who can bring any charge against God's elect?" Messiah concludes with the chorus singing the words from the scene in heaven:

"Worthy is the Lamb that was slain and hath redeemed us to God by His blood to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing."

"Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever."

As I sat this week and listened to an edition which included all fifty four movements of Handel's masterpiece I was moved as never before.  It was part two that captured my mind and my heart.

The opening lines of some movements in part two are:  "Behold the Lamb of God.  He was despised.  Surely He has borne our griefs.  And with His stripes.  All we like sheep.  All they that see him.  He trusted in God.  Thy rebuke has broken His Heart.  Behold and see.  He was cut off.  But Thou didst not leave His soul.  Lift up your heads, 0 ye gates.  How beautiful are the feet.  Their sound is gone out.  Why do the nations rage.  Thou shalt break them.  Hallelujah."

Messiah highlights the accomplishment of redemption via the crucifixion of Christ, His resurrection, exaltation, second coming and the redeemed singing around the throne of the lamb.  Are you among the mockers of Christ or are you one of those He has redeemed?

Dr Keith Graham

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