Next Wednesday Christians around the world will attend Ash Wednesday services, which mark the beginning of the Lenten season. This day always occurs 46 days before Easter. Each year it falls on a different date because it is dependent on the date of Easter. It can occur as early as Feb. 4 and as late as March 10.
Scripture tells us that Jesus spent 40 days alone in the wilderness fasting, praying and enduring great temptation before beginning his public ministry. It offered him the chance to focus on the enormous tasks ahead and deepen his communication with his Heavenly Father. Today many people choose to spend this time praying, taking on a new project to benefit others, or stepping away from a favorite food or activity. All of these are great ways to connect with Jesus’ experience. They also deepen our modern-day experiences with ancient celebrations.
My husband and I are part of a Life Group. We are 14 strong and meet weekly in each others’ homes for food, conversation, study and prayer. Not only do we have a great time together, but our commitment to meeting weekly keeps us engage in each others’ lives. We think of each other throughout the week and treasure what things each person brings to the group.
During the six weeks of Lent our Life Group will be studying Handal’s oratorio, Messiah, using a resource book written by Carol Bechtel. When you hear the name Handal you probably think about the Hallelujah Chorus, which is just one movement of a greater three-part work. The entire score is one of the most beloved ever composed and tells the story of Christ’s prophecy and birth; his suffering, death and resurrection; and his redemption of the world through faith.
The story of Handal’s writing of the Messiah is fascinating. The text is based primarily on biblical scriptures that outline the complete story of Christ. It was compiled by Charles Jennens, a devout man whose sizable wealth enabled him to live a life focused on Bible study, literature and music.
Upon completion of his portion of the project Jennens turned over the text to George Frideric Handal, a prominent composer known for his anthems, organ concertos and operas. In what has been described by historians as a mind-blurring flurry of activity, records indicate that Handal completed the 259-page work in a mere 24 days. While some scholars point to pages that include unfilled bars and uncorrected errors, others counter by saying the errors were minor in such a sizable work. They also point to Handal’s sentence, “Soli Deo Gloria — To God be the glory!” found on the last page. They suggest this indicates nothing short of divine fervor. Some even believe he saw “all heaven before him” while writing the Hallelujah Chorus, one of the most beautiful movements ever composed.
Whatever the case, I downloaded the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s Messiah onto my Kindle for a mere $9 and will happily listen during the next six weeks as I study the text. It has the making of a Lenten season to remember!