OK Lord, I didn’t even know it was on my bucket list. It was not by my design. Now, it is a part of my spirit’s heart: Accident? Coincidence that this gift is discovered? Hardly.
Our group heard about an evening performance of Handel’s Messiah that was to be held at the Garden Tomb area of Jerusalem, a very special composition in an intimate terraced paradise that I love to visit whenever in your land. The concert had already been rescheduled once due to weather and now was an invitation not to be denied. So our venture began…
―We arrive into this nighttime paradise. Perfect; almost. There is a mild wind chilling the air, and we looked forward to the entertainment as we enter the peaceful courtyard. I explain to the others, who have not been, that this was not the “traditional” site thought to be your temporary resting place after the crucifixion. Instead, it is a fair re-creation of what the area might have looked like in your time. Regardless of its authenticity, the surroundings are beautiful, with stone walkways meandering side to side, stepping up and down alone a terrain lavished with flora which the breeze wafted, intoxicating my soul in preparation for what was to come.
We arrive early and disperse, each of us seeming to have individual preferences of seating location for the event. To my amazement, there is a second-row bench opening just behind and to the right of the conductor who is preparing to warm up the orchestra and choir. I eagerly take my place and happen to look above me. I am sitting directly under a beautiful olive tree that canopies out in peaceful protection of any who seek its sanctuary. I embrace the invitation and give you thanks for this tranquil moment.
It is enough, but you are not through with the blessing. The conductor raises his arms, the musicians become alert and then the air and my ears receive the melodic prelude of one of man’s most earnest attempts to honor you, reflecting your word in music.
An immediate sense of completeness floods my soul. Each note, each chord resonates in cause of reflecting your presence. Here is where I belong. As the soloists and choir join in, I too want to sing, but instead let their voices be mine, rising up in offering a sweet incense of song.
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD's hand double for all her sins. A voice cries: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
And not only upwards does your word soar, but outward to the world. Interestingly, the dissonant tones of recorded evening prayers offered to other gods occasionally compete, invading from outside the garden walls. They are respected, the orchestra and singers stop, wait patiently with us, eagerly anticipating the finale of the chants and the restarting of our worship. Handel knew, I can hear it in his composition, that all mankind, if we will only consider the potential, can find you in song, in common prayer, in joined communion, recognizing that even in our best attempts, you are the Completer of our symphony.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.
The songs continue and then the wind also begins a crescendo, it is a very cool breath considering this is May. Everyone around me shivers and we huddle, struggling to focus on the beauty of the notes rather than the increasing intensity of the weather. The musicians wrestle as well, their paper music flapping in the breeze and the gusts becoming a part of the concert, wanting to rush what we hope to savor longer.
At a point, however, after the Tenor Contra duet is ended, the conductor turns to us with a smile. “I would also like this to continue, but alas, our God has a different concert to share with us.” We all laugh and he tells of the unique nature of this evening’s work: The first time for a symphony concert in this garden (promising there will be many more); the context of Handel and the first of its kind translation, sung in Hebrew. O what a glorious night. I’m saddened by the shortening of the evening but am rewarded with a final requiem―of course, no Handel’s Messiah ever dares leave out the Halleluiah Chorus, and this is no exception. The choir and the audience suddenly become one; it’s the same with every Messiah concert I’ve ever participated in; the exultations of our hearts cannot be interned, rushing out in harmonies and voices of different countries and cultures. Hebrew, English, Korean, Dutch, and so many others: It is the same word―we all live the exclamation; we all pour it out with understanding of its origins and it Originator.
Halleluiah, Halleluiah, Halleluiah!
For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.
Please don’t let it stop, Lord. Let this be that eternal moment when you return to rule us with your love.
But I know somehow in my heart of hearts, this is not that moment. It will come, but tonight it is just the most perfect and sweetest of reminders. Your kingdom is approaching, its antiphonal procession sung in practiced hope and joy, by your creation in this garden of your creation. Our gang as one had set out to be entertained. Instead, we were enveloped into a symphony of Spirit. You had foreseen it and placed us in the moment; an invitation and feast unexpected and magnificently orchestrated―just as a future day will come when there will be another, last invitation when each of us must a choice, accepting or rejecting your song of love. It may be today, or yet one more. Only you know that final moment.
I can’t wait another day. My heart chooses you now, Lord God, today and maybe yet one more. I long for that day when you shall reign forever and ever.