“I’m going to see the Messiah tomorrow,” I confidently announced to my colleagues at work on Thursday.
Ah, how they laughed. There was a brief debate on my mental health. Had I finally lost the plot? No, I insisted, I really WAS going to see the Messiah, and at the Royal Albert Hall too.
Anyway, see the Messiah I did, a fantastic rendition of Handel’s classic oratorio. The massed ranks of the Royal Choral Society were swelled by the City of London School for Girls and the effect was stunning.
This was London at its finest, but also at its crowdedest. I had visions of a relaxed Boris Bike journey from Victoria Station to the Albert Hall, freewheeling through Hyde Park in the spring sunshine. The surprise disappearance of the Boris Bike station near Victoria put paid to that. No problem, I thought. Shanks’ Pony will do just as well.
But even travelling on foot proved stressful. The streets outside Buckingham Palace were crammed with tourists and virtually impassable. Police on foot and on horseback were shouting at people to stay behind crash barriers on the packed pavements while the vast empty space of the roadway beckoned behind them.
In Hyde Park, there were hordes more people of every tribe and nation enjoying the Bank Holiday. Some were playing a football-type game with a frisbee, others were playing a tennis-type game with a football. There were runners and cyclists, whole battalions of Boris Bikes, footballers, families and sunseekers.
Huge groups of foreign tourists were being shown round by foreign tourist guides. Foreign coffee-seekers were being served coffee by foreign coffee servers. It struck me that a huge part of London’s economy now involves foreigners paying other foreigners for stuff. Hopefully some of it ends up in George Osborne’s coffers – otherwise the nation is gaining little except blocked pavements and raised blood pressure.
Eventually through the budding trees of Hyde Park came the welcome sign of a golden Prince Albert glinting in the sunshine from high up on his memorial. His hall came into view soon afterwards. Thousands of people were making the same journey as me, by tube, bus or bike, quietly honouring a Good Friday tradition that has continued unbroken for 134 years.
It dawned on me that 34 years before the Titanic set sail, the Albert Hall Good Friday Messiah was already under way. It remains a stubborn survivor in the world where the Easter Bunny seems to have displaced Jesus as the main focus of Easter.
This morning, one day on from seeing the Messiah, I woke up to find my not-favourite Cardinal Keith O’Brien telling Christians they should all wear crosses. I seem to remember Jesus saying people should recognise his followers because they loved each other, not because they were wearing a religious symbol. Isn’t the point of Christianity that it’s about relationship not religion, that Christian beliefs are written on people’s hearts, not worn round their necks? They obviously teach you something different at cardinal college.
His latest utterances brought to mind a friend theorising a while back that you should have a Christian fish symbol on the front of your car but not on the back, so that when you let someone out into traffic they’ll know you’re a Christian, but when you cut them up they won’t. That’s more like it!
Anyway, cross-free, and munching my French stick, I discover further on in the Guardian that an Anglican bishop has warned that the Church of England is being seen as “at best, the guardian of the value system of the nation’s grandparents and at worst a den of religious anoraks defined by defensiveness, estoteric logic and discrimination.” Go for it, Bishop Alan Wilson. I can picture Jesus saying that. I can’t imagine him telling everyone to wear a cross (just to carry one).
So, yes, oh mirthful colleagues. I did see the Messiah at the Albert Hall. My mental health remains intact, or just about anyway. Happy Easter, whether you’re waiting for “Messiah 1” as devout Jews are, “Messiah 2 – The Sequel” as devout Christians are, or no particular Messiah at all, as most people are.
Someone I know once summed up the Easter story as “Dead. Alive. Good.” I think that’s pretty cool.