Like many musicians, I opened December with a black tie music performance of Handel’s Messiah. It’s a tradition in many churches — and a tradition for me — to attend at least one Messiah performance in December. This year, though, I joined the choir instead of just listening.
Somewhere in the midst of a rehearsal, our wonderful director Karen stopped us dead in our tracks. “Do you realize what you are singing?” she asked with passion and conviction. We were slogging through a selection near the end of the work with this text:
Since by man came death, by man also came resurrection of the dead (I Cor 15:21, KJV)
No, I admitted to myself, I guess I didn’t.
Karen explained that while many performances of the Messiah at Christmas time only did the first third of the work, about the birth of Jesus, we were going to present the whole Gospel – Christ’s birth, death and resurrection.
“This is the good news part, people!” she reminded us. “Don’t look down at the music. Look up. Sing like you mean it. Somewhere out there, sitting in the pews on the night of the performance, will be someone who needs to know Christ’s peace and salvation. Sing it to that person.”
And so we started the piece again, and wham, it was completely transformed. The emotional speakers went to 11, and stayed there until the night of the actual performance. As the final notes of the “Hallelujah” chorus faded, one particularly exuberant gentleman in the audience punctuated his applause with a loud “Wow!” It capped the night with laughter but also showed the power of music to impact and heal.
Our church is in one of the wealthiest communities on the planet. It can be hard to remember that while physical poverty is just a shadow here, spiritual poverty abounds. I was glad for the reminder, that we all suffer from spiritual poverty, and we all need Jesus – even if the cupboard is full, even if we’re driving a Lexus, even if we can’t see our neighbor suffering in silence.