This week is filled with various church services moving us towards the culmination of Easter, which will be celebrated this Sunday. And celebrate we should because without the resurrection it is game over—no redemption, no salvation, no hope.
The resurrection makes our hope possible and real. The other day I heard an interview on the radio with someone who had lost her father. Some of her comments were just astounding. She said when she took cocaine she felt genetically complete since her parents had both been addicts (as if taking a hit off of cocaine would somehow physiologically make her whole.) She then mentioned that her family was a “religious lot” and therefore she knew her father was with her. As the interview progressed, it was apparent that neither she nor her father were believers, and at the end of her comments she was clearly basing her father’s heavenly destination on a feeling. I wondered if she could hear herself and realize the hollowness of her beliefs. We hear this kind of wishful theology echoed in every corner of our culture these days. Yet, this kind of hope is really a pseudo hope that is based in feeling or more accurately stated based in nothing.
As believers our hope is placed in the Creator of heaven and earth, the King of kings, and the Lord of lords. Our hope is real. The Son of God, Jesus Christ, lived a sinless life, was crucified, and raised from the dead so that you and I can be redeemed: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16, ESV.) ...you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into is marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (I Peter 2:9-10) This is why we celebrate Easter.
This is why George Frideric Handel’s Hallelujah is so moving. Not only was Handel a musical genius or as Beethoven said, “the greatest composer that ever lived,” but he also understood how music could be structured to stir our inner being. There is a kind of power that resides in this piece.
Rob Kapilow, composer and conductor (in an article for NPR’s American Public Media), attributes the power of this choral masterpiece to the rhythm of the word “hallelujah.” Kapilow says:
Handel could have assigned the four syllables of the word to four notes of equal length. But that would be boring — and it wouldn't be Handel. What makes Handel great, is that the first note is lengthened and then we explode at the end. We have this HAAAA-le-lu-jah.
Kapilow also cites what he calls the"King of Kings" section:
The thing that's so amazing about it, is that it's actually based on one of the simplest ideas you could possibly imagine: a single note repeated over and over again; one note per syllable — 'king - of - kings' and 'lord - of - lords.' But Handel keeps repeating the passage in higher and higher registers. Each one seems to be the highest you could possibly get, that's the climax of the piece.
Finally, any analysis of the significance and power of this musical score falls short when it does not recognize that there is power in truth. These truths are nestled among musical notes that build and build and build. After all, it is the glory of the Lord God Almighty that is being exalted in the Hallelujah Chorus. Scripture says that the Word of God does not return void. The whole of Handel’s Messiah is replete with scripture and the story of redemption. The first section is prophesying the birth of Jesus Christ, the second section exalting Christ’s sacrifice for humankind, and the third section heralding Christ’s resurrection to which the only appropriate response is “Hallelujah.”
The Messiah debuted in Dublin, Ireland, in 1742. King George II of England was in the crowd and, upon hearing Handel’s Hallelujah, the King’s response to its sheer power was to stand, prompting the audience to rise to their feet as well. For over 250 years now, audiences have continued to stand for this exhilarating chorus.
The Hallelujah Chorus helps us to experience the glory of the Lord as we praise Him. It has the ability to lift our gaze heavenward, to move us to a posture of reverence by standing upon it being played (something that could be more appreciated in King George II’s time), and to beckon us to do what we were made to do—worship.
By God’s grace Handel utilized his giftedness. Centuries later we are still enjoying it. What is hard for us to believe is that when we use our God-given talents as we have been called to do, we are tangibly expressing hallelujah, God be praised. My prayer this Easter is that you and I would be humbled at what God has done—and is doing, that we embrace real hope, a hope in Christ, and that our response would be hallelujah.
Christ has risen, the Lord has risen indeed. Happy Easter!
For your enjoyment, listen to the Royal Choral Society performance of Handel’s Hallelujah.
Crosland Stuart, of Crosland & Company, LLC, works with The Collaborative on marketing, recruiting, and content creation. Additionally, she also works in the areas of foundation consulting, communications, and is a literary agent.