A Debt-Free Easter
Submitted by Deaconess Sara Scungio
It’s that time of year again. You begin to see chocolate eggs, bunnies with bows and the first signs of spring in the air (maybe). Easter is coming, and it’s a busy season for families gathering treats together for Easter baskets. More importantly, it’s a busy season for the Church. On Easter Sunday, crowds gather in the pews, filling the sanctuary. All the candles are lit, everything adorned in white, lilies spread throughout, and the choir sings one of the most beloved pieces of all time: the “Hallelujah” Chorus.
I’m betting you know that the “Hallelujah” Chorus, a part of the Messiah oratorio, was composed by George Frideric Handel. But did you know that Handel’s Messiah was originally not so well-received? In fact, Handel was in serious debt.
At the start of Handel’s career, he was very successful. He was appointed as Kapellmeister for the Elector of Hanover. Later, he provided four anthems for the coronation of George II, including Zadok the Priest which has been performed at every British coronation ceremony since the first performance in 1727. But, Handel’s fame and fortune did not last.
Music styles were changing, yet Handel wanted to keep his style the same. At various times, he was severely criticized by voices of the English social establishment for his artistic endeavors. Some had considered Italian operas ridiculous, and others believed that musical settings of Scripture were profane. Handel’s Messiah proved to be a great success at its premiere in Dublin in 1742; however, it became the subject of great controversy following its London debut a year later. Handel found himself in debt and his company suffered a great loss and was forced to file for bankruptcy.
Messiah was not over. London’s Foundling Hospital held a fundraising concert, where Handel performed a mix of new music as well as older pieces including the “Hallelujah” chorus. The concert was so successful that Handel was invited back the next year, where he performed the entire Messiah oratorio. Performances multiplied and Handel became free of his debt.
We are not all that different from Handel. While we may not all be skilled composers, we are in debt. We see this numerous times in Scripture. We feel the weight of our sin bearing down on us heavily. We feel it most especially during this season of Lent. That’s not how Lent ends however. Much like Handel, we are also set free from our debt. Easter Sunday approaches, and we celebrate not just that Christ is risen, but also what His resurrection means for us. Paul explains it perfectly in Romans 8:
“1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.”
This is victory in Jesus. This is being free from all debt to sin. Handel didn’t dig himself out of his debt; he had help. We did nothing to dig ourselves out of our debt to sin; we have a Redeemer who came down from Heaven, took on our human flesh, suffered, and died on the cross to pay off our debt. We have a substitute who paid the price we should have paid. He died so that we may live debt-free. And so we will all give thanks to Him. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:
“21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
In Colossians 1, Paul reiterates:
“13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
Our debt was transferred over to Christ so that we may be set free from it and thus be transferred to eternal life. We will never be able to thank God enough for digging us out of our debt to sin and death. But Handel attempted to do exactly this with the “Hallelujah” Chorus. Hallelujah means “praise God”. Almost every word in the Chorus is “Hallelujah”, “Praise God”. As the Chorus repeatedly declares, all thanks and praise be to our Lord of lords and King of kings for paying our debt and giving us the citizenship in heaven Paul writes about in Philippians 3:
“20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ…”
That is what we do now. We praise God for sending His Son to pay our debts, giving us eternal life, and we celebrate the fact that He is risen this Eastertide. And now, we wait for His return.
Hallelujah! Come soon, Lord Jesus. Amen.