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A Wesleyan-Anglican Church in Boise, Idaho

Pilgrimages

An English Pilgrimage

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Entry 19, Saturday, Third Week of Advent:
London, Royal Albert Hall: Handel the Wesleyan

At the Royal Albert Hall in London, we attend, along with maybe 3,000 others, the performance of George Frederic Handel's oratorio Messiah by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Goldsmiths Choral Union, The London Choral Society, and the Highgate Choral Society.

Born in 1685 in Germany, and living and working in London from 1710 until his death in 1759, Handel was said by John Wesley to be a "particular genius" (as distinct from a "general genius") and to have "an extraordinary capacity, for music". On August 17 in the year preceding Handel's death, John Wesley attended a performance of Handel's Messiah at the cathedral in Bristol, after the yearly Methodist Conference ended. Wesley wrote about the performance, "I doubt if that congregation was ever so serious at a sermon as they were during this performance. In many parts, especially several of the choruses, it exceeded my expectation."

Charles Wesley sought for his son Charles, who preferred Handel "to all the world", an organ or harpsichord instructor "who was an admirer of Handel". Charles Wesley II received instruction from Joseph Kelway, who was the organist of St. Martin's-in-the-Fields in London, and who used Handel's Messiah to teach the young Charles. Young Charles proceeded to spend his evenings playing Handel's oratorios, and in that way his younger brother Samuel memorized Messiah and Handel's Samson entirely, both words and notes, according to their father.

I don't know that Handel and either John or Charles Wesley ever met in person, and I don't know what view, if any, Handel held about the Methodists. As I listen to this performance, however-and it exceeds my expectation, too-I observe that Handel's Messiah is thoroughly Wesleyan in its view of the redemptive work of Christ.

First, though, note the following examples of how various parts of the oratorio correspond with a service of the Word and service of Communion taken from The Book of Common Prayer or John Wesley's Sunday Service of the Methodists:

Handel's Messiah BCP/John Wesley
Various airs and recitatives Old Testament reading
Various airs and recitatives Gospel reading
How beautiful are the feet of them The sermon
I know that my Redeemer liveth The creed
Glory to God in the highest,
Worthy is the Lamb
The Gloria
He shall feed his flock like a shepherd Invitation to Communion
All we like sheep have gone astray The confession
Behold the Lamb of God The Agnus Dei
Comfort ye my people The "comfortable words"
And with his stripes,
Surely he has borne our griefs
Assurance of forgiveness; the peace
Lift up your heads, O ye gates The Sursum Corda
Let the angels of God worship Him Therefore, with Angels and Archangels
Rejoice greatly, . . . thy King cometh The Benedictus, often with the Sanctus
. . . hath redeemed us to God by His blood The words of institution
Behold the Lamb of God The consecration, the gifts of God for the people of God
He was cut off from the land of the living,
But thou didst not leave his soul in hell,
It is Christ that died, yet rather, that is risen,
The trumpet shall sound
Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again
But thanks be to God,
If God be for us
The final blessing

What strikes me most, though, is the emphasis in Handel's Messiah on the present deliverance from the power of sin: The Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world; with his stripes we are healed; the kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord; but thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory; if God be for us, who can be against us; hath redeemed us.

Then, too, the emphasis is on complete deliverance: He shall purify the sons of Levi; He is like a refiner's fire; her iniquity is pardoned; who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect?

Moreover, Handel's Messiah makes it clear that this is the work of God's grace, not our doing: But thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory; with His stripes we are healed; He will give you rest; His yoke is easy, and His burthen is light.

Also, Handel's Messiah speaks of present assurance of salvation: I know that my Redeemer liveth; in my flesh shall I see God; if God be for us, who can be against us?

Also again, Handel's Messiah speaks of grace made available to everyone: great tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people; come unto Him, all ye that labour; the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all; (the preaching of the Gospel) is gone out into all lands; as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.

In these critical respects, which I submit are the essence of the message of Handel's Messiah, the message is Wesleyan: the availability to everyone of assurance of present, complete deliverance from the domination of sin, solely by the grace and power of Christ.

Sure, this is simply a reiteration by Handel of what's in the Scriptures, but also it's his choice of Scriptures to recite; he chose to emphasize the totality of the work of Christ both now and in eternity, rather than a limited grace offered only to a chosen few. By so doing, Handel was being Wesleyan, whether or not he so realized.

From "On the Death of Dr. Boyce", February 7, 1779, by Charles Wesley:

"The generous, good, and upright heart,
Which sigh'd for a celestial lyre,
Was tuned on earth to bear a part
Symphonious with the heavenly choir,
Where Handel strikes the warbling strings,
And plausive angels clap their wings,

"Handel, and all the tuneful train,
Who well employ'd their art divine
To' announce the great Messiah's reign,
In joyous acclamations join,
And, springing from their azure seat,
With shouts their new-born brother greet."

- Christopher

Theme Verse

Luke 1:78-79

Scripture Lessons

May 28: Acts 1:1-11, Psalm 110:1-5, Ephesians 1:15-23, Luke 24:49-53

May 21: Acts 17:22-31, Psalm 148:7-14, 1 Peter 3:8-18, John 15:1-8

Prayer Emphases

Nation: Peru

Denomination: Fellowship of Grace Brethren

Congregation: Park City Community Church, Park City, UT, and the Rev. Tracy Hausman

Ministry: Institute for Religious Freedom

Parishioners: Those living on Poplar Street

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