Friday, March 30, marks the concurrence of two of the most significant holidays for two of the most prominent world religions. It is the beginning of Passover, and it is Good Friday.
In Judaism, Passover commemorates the events described in the Book of Exodus, the leading of the Israelites out of Egypt. The last of ten plagues meant to convince Egypt’s Pharaoh to let the Israelites go was the death of first-born sons, but households with lamb’s blood marking their doorways would be passed over. In Christianity, Good Friday observes the day Jesus Christ was crucified and died, to be resurrected on Easter Sunday.
These observances don’t always match on the calendar, but much connects them just the same. Their themes are similar. Each is a celebration of freedom from bondage: in Passover, freedom from slavery in Egypt; in Holy Week and Easter Sunday, freedom from death.
The Last Supper, which Jesus and the Twelve Disciples shared the night before his crucifixion, is commonly believed to have been a Seder, the meal that commemorates Passover. In the original event that Passover commemorates, lambs were sacrificed and their blood used to mark the posts around doors; Jesus is metaphorically called the Lamb as a reflection of his sacrifice on the Cross.
Generations of people across the world have observed these holidays with rituals, meals, and songs. It is true that Easter songs are not as imprinted on the culture as their cousins, Christmas carols. But one classical song played often in the Christmas season was originally written to commemorate Easter.
George Frideric Handel was born in what is now Germany and composed his first opera by the age of 18. As an article in Smithsonian Magazine relates, Handel worked as a musician and composer across Europe before he set up shop in London, writing operas. They were lavish affairs, and putting them on required dealing with large egos and expensive productions.
Oratorios, in contrast, are works that present narratives, as operas do, but are usually religious in nature and simpler in execution. Handel devoted more time to composing these works as operas wore him down.
Over the span of a few weeks in 1741, Handel worked from morning to night on a new oratorio inspired by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It premiered on April 13, 1742, during Lent, in Dublin and was a great success. The oratorio later opened in London.
Legend says that one part of the oratorio so moved King George II that he stood for its performance. Out of deference to the monarch, the crowd rose as well, and to this day, when the “Hallelujah” chorus of Handel’s Messiah is performed, the crowd stands.
Messiah eventually became a Christmas favorite, and a third of it is devoted to the birth of Jesus, but it is still appropriate for Eastertime, with its text taken from the Bible. For example, note the words of the “Hallelujah” chorus, inspired by the Book of Revelation:
Hallelujah: for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth.
The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord,
and of His Christ; and He shall reign for ever and ever.
King of Kings, and Lord of Lords.
These words are a fine expression of what Christians like myself celebrate on Easter.
We don’t know for sure whether King George II stood for the “Hallelujah” chorus, but I like to think he did. From kings on down, we all could benefit from the good news Messiah celebrates.
The final words in Messiah are also worthy of reflecting upon, and I leave you with them. Not only do they also capture the meaning of Easter for those who celebrate it; in speaking of Christ as the Lamb, they remind us of Christianity’s debt to the Jewish faith, in which the lamb served as a sacrifice on Passover and in other rituals. I extend my best wishes to all who are observing Passover and Easter.
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 honour, and glory, and blessing.
Blessing and honour, glory and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, for ever and ever.
If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office. You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405 or my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671. To reach my office via email, please visit my website at www.morgangriffith.house.gov. Also on my website is the latest material from my office, including information on votes recently taken on the floor of the House of Representatives.