The canny programmer will not provide an intermission after the “Hallelujah Chorus” of Handel’s Messiah. Part of the audience just won’t come back for the rest of the story. Some, because they think the oratorio is over; others because they finally have heard the one piece they came for in the first place! What a pity. Those who miss Part Three miss the most personal music of the Sacred Oratorio.
After the heavens and earth have proclaimed Jesus “King of kings and Lord of lords,” the tender Soprano aria brings it all down to a very personal level: “I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth. And though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.” (Job 19:25) Whereas in Part Two, the fact of the Resurrection is limited to a single brief aria, Part Three not only speaks of the living Redeemer, but affirms with the Creeds that because He lives, we too shall live: “For now is Christ risen from the dead, the first fruits of them that sleep.” (1 Corinthians 15:20) The ending of Messiah is a lovely exposition of this glorious truth.
The Chorus intones, “Since by man came death,” then exults, “by man came also the resurrection of the dead.” Again, the bad news: “For as in Adam all die,” and the good news, “even so in Christ shall all be made alive!” Frisson and brisance in the same chorus. The nature of this miracle of transformation is celebrated in the Bass recitative and aria (click here for a reminder about these terms): “Behold, I tell you a mystery, we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible; For this corruption must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.” (1 Corinthians 15:21-23)
Since this is in our future, in light of the resurrection, we do not fear death. The Alto continues from St. Paul’s great resurrection chapter: “Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory.” And the Tenor joins expressing this ultimate joy: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law.” (1 Cor. 15:54-56) The Chorus can’t not join in worship, “But thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. ” (verse 57) Listen for the exultant, heroic word ”victory” throughout this chorus!
No Resurrection in Messiah? But wait! There’s more! “If God is for us, who can be against us? Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather that is risen again, who is at the right hand of God, who makes intercession for us.” (Romans 8:31-34) And now, for those who have looked at the program, and seen that there is more Messiah after “Hallelujah;” for those who have decided to just see what else could be said after “Hallelujah;” for all who wished there was an intermission for them to slip away after “Hallelujah” – the real crowning glory of this amazing work.
The final scene of Messiah again shifts to the Revelation, from which Charles Jennens compiled the final text for George Frederic Handel to set. And it really is the last word. For those who know and love the Messiah, it is our eternal song of praise:
Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing. Blessing, honor, glory and power be unto Him who sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, forever and ever. Amen!
And so may we Sing on!
Messiah, parts 2 and 3 – Sunday, April 1, 6pm at College Church in Wheaton, 332 East Seminary Avenue, Wheaton.
Chancel Choir, Orchestra and Soloists: Robin Wiper, soprano; Sarah Holman, alto; Daniel Buchanan, tenor; Gerard Sundberg, bass