On Saturday April 13, my wife and I attended a performance of what might be the greatest worship music ever written, Handel’s Messiah. The date is significant in that the first performance took place on April 13, 1742 in Dublin, Ireland, 277 years before the performance that I enjoyed the weekend before Easter.
Handel amazingly wrote the music for The Messiah in just 24 days. One has to believe that God inspired him as he composed that awesome music in such a short period of time.
This was the third or fourth time that I have attended a performance of The Messiah and I still become overwhelmed when everyone stands for the Hallelujah Chorus. I’m not sure what we will sing in heaven but I have to think that the Hallelujah Chorus might be included.
Queen Victoria and the Messiah
There is a story told about Queen Victoria during her coronation week when she was still a young woman. The new Queen was attending a performance of the Messiah when it was announced that, as was traditional, everyone with the exception of the Queen would stand at the beginning of the Hallelujah Chorus. As was commanded when the chorus began everyone rose with their heads bowed out of respect.
As the choir sang those famous words, the Queen was deeply moved. Her lips trembled, tears came to her eyes and her body shook. Finally as the chorus reached its pinnacle with the words “KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” the queen couldn’t remain seated any longer. She rose to her feet and stood with her head bowed for the remaining of the Chorus. One person’s comment was that she never did anything more noble or more royal throughout her reign as queen.
God’s gift to His church
Down through the centuries the church has honoured its great preachers. I have a multi-volume set of books containing the great sermons of history. Martin Luther, John Wesley, George Whitfield, D.L. Moody, Charles Spurgeon and many others all have their place in that collection. It is important to remember these people. They played an important part in the church.
But there is another list of people who used their gifts for the benefit of the church and who have had an impact beyond that for which they are given credit. These are the people who have blessed us with the music that underlies our worship. Handel was a gift that God gave to his people and we have been blessed by that gift ever since. For the few minutes of the Hallelujah Chorus I felt as if I was brought into the very presence of God.
Every era has produced its great song writers and composers. When I was a student in seminary I had a church history prof who began each of his classes with the singing of a hymn that came out of the period that we were studying. It was a wonderful way to begin the class with the reminder that when we sing songs of praise we are part of a tradition that has stretched throughout the entire history of the church.
Praise music at the very least goes back to Miriam, the sister of Moses, who composed a song of praise after the Jewish people had passed safely through the Red Sea. It continued through the psalms and included the hymns of the New Testament. It continues right down to the present age where we have access to more songs than at any point in church history.
My concern for today
Christian music is available as never before. There are still some cd’s around in people’s collections. We can download songs onto our computers or smart phones or whatever device we might own. New songs are being published every day. One of the results of this is that the life span of any particular song in any church is usually quite short. The best songs that are written today don’t seem to last very long.
Fanny Crosby, hymn writer in the 1800’s wrote over 8,000 hymns with over 100 million printed. Charles Wesley, a century before, wrote more than 6,500 hymns. Before Wesley, Isaac Watts wrote about 750 hymns and was often called the Godfather of English Hymnody.
What is amazing is that the best of those thousands of hymns that they wrote are still sung today. They have come down through the centuries and are still blessing the people who sing them.
There are some beautiful, powerful songs being written today. My fear is that with the avalanche of songs that are available and the compulsion on the part of many worship leaders to always have something new, the best of modern praise music may not be sung often enough over time for it to become firmly planted in our minds. We could lose the best of what is being written because something else is always taking its place and that would be a huge loss for all of us.
Music is a gift from God
George Frideric Handel was God’s gift to the church in the 1700’s and he is still blessing us today. Fanny Crosby was a gift in the 1800’s. John Peterson was a gift in the 1900’s. Chris Tomlin is God’s gift to us today. We need to thank God for these people and for all of the other hymn writers and composers whom he has given to us to strengthen our walk with him. Rather than argue about music in our churches, wouldn’t it be great if we just thanked God for his gift and allowed the song to touch our lives?