Going to see the Messiah

“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.


5 thoughts on “Going to see the Messiah

  1. Lucky you – seeing the Messiah in such fine surroundings. Two wonderful pieces of work. As a child I got many of the Messiah choruses & recitatives in my head early, even if I was baffled by some of the words.
    “And with his stripes we are healéd” – was Jesus a lance-corporal?
    “The trumpet shall sound & the dead shall be raised, be raised incorruptible” – that must have something to do with not taking bribes, I thought.
    But the next line “And we shall be changed” has given me food for thought for years – there’s a mystical beauty about that line and its melody.
    Did the audience join in, as on the Last Night of the Proms?
    Your route from Victoria to RAH was interestingly circuitous, if I may say so. I can brief you on the location of TfL cycle hire stations around Victoria – I know them, every one. I’ll be dropping a bike off there about 7am tomorrow!
    On a slightly different sporting note, I didn’t know you were such a boat race fan – is that what kept you on the sofa all afternoon? What happened to solvitur ambulando?

    • Love the childhood interpretations of Messiah – brings to mind “Bringing in the cheese” which a certain member of my family apparently sang as a child, as “sheaves” were an unknown thing. And yes, I love that “We shall be changed” line too. The one word I love the most, though, is “Surely”. As in “Surely, Surely, He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” Gets me every time! And best note is that glorious Top A in the Amen chorus…
      The audience stood for the Hallelujah Chorus but otherwise no – it was a properly posh do, with only a few badly behaved conversationalists in the row behind to spoil things.
      The circuitous route is explained as follows: The only Boris Bike station I knew of was the one en route from Victoria to Buck House, but when I got there I found it had been dug up as part of road works. Having got that far towards Queenie’s place I decided I might as well carry on past the front gates and cut up to Hyde Park Corner where I knew there were more Boris Bikes. Sadly the queue there was so long I had to abandon the bike plan altogether and just keep plodding. I’ll look forward to a detailed analysis of other Victoria Boris Bike stations in due course.
      Re sofa: no, I just couldn’t be bothered to move. To my shame, I was actually watching Road to Rio and Bringing Up Baby most of the afternoon, and only turned on the boat race when I gathered from Twitter that there was a problem.
      And finally… Solvitur ambulando replaced by Inertia Maximus.

      • We must do some Handel singing, or at least sotto voce humming, next time our paths cross!
        Sounds like you need a TfL bike app on your phone, or else a bike map in your pocket. I know the docking station you mean, the one which is being dug up at present, but there are at least two nearer to Victoria anyway.
        As for solvitur ambulando – there is always another day, tomorrow even!

  2. I’m belatedly watching the boat race drama on TV – and that cox looks like he’s a total goner.
    But what a fool, the fellow who went swimming across their bows! Even as an eager river swimmer, I can only shake my head in disbelief.

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