Studying Handel’s Messiah Together

Our first year living as Mission Co-Workers in Egypt, a friend and Lutheran mission-worker talked me into singing with her in the American University of Cairo’s Choral Society. They were planning to sing portions of Handel’s Messiah that December at a few different venues in Cairo.

Being in the choir meant going out in the evening once a week to rehearsals across town. To get to the practice space, I would first walk down the street and around the school campus where we lived to get to a busy street pointed down toward Tahrir Square where I could catch a cab.

Once I convinced a cab to pick me up, we would speed down into the city and then up onto a bridge that crossed the Nile to the island of Zamalek. The Nile is large enough to have a whole island neighborhood right in the middle of it. If the cab had continued on through the island to the bridge on the other side, we would have been well on our way to the Pyramids at Giza.

But I would have the driver drop me right on the edge of the island so I could walk through the residential streets to the small satellite campus building where men and women, Americans, Germans, Britons, Egyptians, Christians, Muslims and Agnostics, would gather to sing the Messiah.

Anytime I had sung the Messiah before, we focused on what are referred to as the Christmas portions, but for this performance, we sang selections from the whole piece, including what we would consider the Lent and Easter portions.

Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world…He trusted in God that he would deliver him, if he delight in him… 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 honor, and glory, and blessing.

We were by no means the most professional or perfect group of singers, but there was something especially moving about our practices. My Hebrew professor told me once that the benefit of reading the Bible in its original languages was not that we necessarily gain a deeper insight into the text, but we simply are forced to read it more slowly.

The text of the Messiah, as we all know, comes directly from the Bible, and the Lent and Easter portions have selections from both the Old and New Testaments. The Messiah repeats these simple biblical truths over and over again, and when one is rehearsing them, the repetition is unending. It forces one to hear and experience the Bible deeply and slowly.

These words rang in my head and my heart long after the rehearsal had ended and I made the long journey home.

We will spend the next four Sundays immersing ourselves in the passages that make up the Lenten and Easter portions of the Messiah. Digging deeply into both the Old and New Testament texts that shape Handel’s classic work, will help us read the text slowly as we make the long journey to the cross.

We are especially thrilled to welcome each week one of our Chancel Choir section leaders who will sing some of these pieces for us, helping them to settle deeply in our souls.

Join us in Congregational Hall at 11:15 a.m. on Sundays, February 25 through March 18.