Death Is Swallowed Up in Victory

by Colin Howland March 17, 2016

During my formative musical years I remember reading a quote attributed to George Frederick Handel. In response to someone who had complimented his new work Messiah as a “noble entertainment,” Handel replied, “I should be sorry if I only entertained them, I wish to make them better.” These words, along with Bach’s “Soli Deo Gloria” have provided purpose for my life as a musician ever since I first heard them. I think they speak deeply to something we all feel; we want our lives to really count. 

How may our lives really have a lasting impact? Our culture idolizes celebrity. One reason people love celebrity, I believe, is because celebrity allows individuals the opportunity to experience glory vicariously through the success of another. Why do we root for sports teams and a particular superstar on the team? Because we want to experience the victory. Put another way, we hope that something they do will make us better. They get the trophy but we share in the celebration, in the glory of the champion. There is something wonderfully odd in this phenomenon. We benefit from diverting attention from ourselves and our own abilities to another’s. 

“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16)

I believe this experience echoes a biblical truth. Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Notice carefully the end result. It is different than the sports example. A third party is introduced—our Father which is in heaven. Instead of a single diversion, there is a double diversion! People see your good works, and rather than giving you the glory (unlike the celebrity), they give glory to God. This is the essence of making an impact on this world. We are to do good works, but in such a way that people give glory to God. After all, it is God’s victory through Jesus Christ that we truly need to experience. If the Westminster Shorter Catechism is correct when it says, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever,” then the goal of helping others glorify God is surely one way to make our lives really count. This is easier said than done, because in our sinfulness we so want to be recognized, if only for our piety and commitment to the Lord!

So what does this have to do with a Good Friday concert at Tenth? I believe it speaks to the heart of why we do what we do in Tenth’s Music Ministry. Music plays an important part in the life of the Church. It is one means by which the Church with one voice offers its praises and prayers to God. Music enriches the fellowship of the Church as it accompanies various gatherings. Finally, music may serve as a means of outreach into the community as we sing the message of the gospel. In all of these contexts, music’s deepest purpose is to draw our attention away from ourselves toward God. So why do a Good Friday Concert? We want our attention drawn toward our wonderful Triune God, to give him the glory, honor, praise, and thanksgiving which he so richly deserves. 

This year’s program highlights a central theme of the Christian faith, “Death is swallowed up in victory.” The first half of the concert features the Saint Mark Passion by Charles Wood. It will be sung by the Tenth Church Choir with organ accompaniment from the choir loft. Composed originally for the Good Friday liturgy at King’s College, Cambridge, Saint Mark Passion is based on an ancient form of service which interspersed the reading of long passages of Scripture with choral responses. Sung selections from Mark’s gospel comprise the five sections of the piece: the Upper Room, Gethsemane, the trial before the Sanhedrin, the trial before Pilate, and the crucifixion. Plainchant hymns sung between these narratives serve as moments for personal reflection on Christ’s suffering. 

The second portion of the program will be sung and played from the front of the sanctuary. Part 3 of Handel’s Messiah has been historically referred to as the “resurrection portion.” Rather than being a narrative of the events of the resurrection, the Scripture passages which Handel set to music point to the lasting effects of Christ’s victory: because Christ lives death no longer has dominion, the dead in Christ will rise as he did, and Christ is worthy to receive power, riches, wisdom, strength, honor, glory and blessing! Amen!

Concert Details

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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By Colin Howland. © 2020 Tenth Presbyterian Church. Website: tenth.org