Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Glory from Dishonor: How I Worshipped While Playing the Bad Guy

My college’s choir (myself included as a bass) once had the great experience of singing George Handel’s Messiah, arguably the most famous work of sacred choral literature, in a professional setting. The conservatory where I was a student pulled out all the proverbial stops (bringing along all the choirs and the esteemed orchestra) and our very own renowned baritone was a soloist among the three other soloists who had traveled from outside the country, taking time away from their involvements in operas and other opportunities. The conductor was a famous alumnus who had brought along with him a few friend professional string players from his home in Paris.

Now, one wouldn’t have to be a nerd, per se, but if a conservatory student didn’t have at least a strong appreciation for the intricate details (theory, history, etc.) of classical music, it would have been a very boring curriculum. This being a Christian conservatory, many were also finding it to be a worshipful experience. Never before had many of these young followers of Christ participated in such a large professional ensemble working on a well-written yet complex musical interpretation of the life of their Savior. The finished work, as an act of worship, was arguably a taste of the grandeur of what some might think music sounds like in Heaven.

Myself, I was pouring through the text throughout rehearsals. It is pure Scripture, verbatim, and learning the various connections to the Old Testament and other interesting aspects of Charles Jennens’s libretto made this quite the devotional experience. I’d encourage anyone to look through it before and/or during a listening.

So, what was the most powerfully moving or worshipful portion of Messiah?

Perhaps, for some, it was the opening chorus of Part II, the glorious introduction of Christ as ultimate savior, as announced by the outspoken and feisty John the Baptist in John 1:29b.

“Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.”

For many, it likely was the chori that spoke of Jesus as the suffering servant of Isaiah 53:4-5.

4Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
5But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

After all, it was barely a year after the headlining and controversial film by Mel Gibson, The Passion of the Christ, had reached theaters, so many singers and instrumentalists still had those gripping but historically-accurate images of Christ’s atoning sacrifice in their minds.

For me, it wasn’t the ever-so-popular Hallelujah Chorus, although our college had an annual tradition to sing that during the last chapel session before Christmas. The grand finale chorus that quotes Revelation 5:12-13, giving the highest glory to Jesus Christ as the sacrificial lamb and His freeing work, actually came in a close second.
It was rather the chorus where a suffering Christ seems to echo the poetic theodicy of the most Israel-famed member of his own genealogy, King David. There are several connections between Psalm 22 and Christ’s passion, and Messiah included Psalm 22:7-8.

7All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, “8He trusted on the LORD that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him.”

Verse 7 is a tenor solo. Verse 8 is the chorus that we were singing, and the theme of ridicule with which the soldiers and scoffers plagued Jesus during his physical torture.

That’s right. My most worshipful movement of Messiah was playing the musical role of the outright cruel and sacrilegious. Why?

Messiah, to get a bit technical, is a narrative, which, other than a musical or an opera, is the most musical form of story-telling. The prophets’ in their foretelling, and the actual people who were involved in Jesus’s life and the portion that wrote about it are the characters. My role was the villain.

Playing the bad guy gave me a powerful glimpse into the hostility and suffering that Jesus faced on our behalf, being tortured by these men. No doubt Jesus could see the passionate and energetic fire of Satan in their eyes. Satan was doing what he’s always done: instilling painful self-doubt and discouragement to anyone holding faith and taking action in God’s purposes. For me to not give this role justice is undermining to Handel’s work and downplaying of the suffering that Christ went through. Playing this role well was seemingly an act of worship leadership.

For him to overcome such emotional and physical torture, what strength! On our behalf, what love!

My assignment to seemingly sing against my Lord turned, actually, into an unexpectedly deep and meaningful worship experience, as it was for those watching all the actors play their respective roles. It was a lesson, for me, that God was seeking from me a more holistic type of worship. A worship that better understands God’s identity and will by seeing Him through different perspectives, and by operating through different mediums.

For once, playing the role of the devil’s advocate was honoring to God.