Foundry United Methodist Church

Rev. Dean Snyder, Senior Minister




Meditation on Handel’s Messiah

Sunday, March 19, 2006



Rev. Dean Snyder


I am grateful to Eileen and the choir for selecting portions of Handel’s Messiah to sing during this season of the year. This is a season when I usually play the Messiah on my CD again and again even more than during the Christmas season because I think it captures so powerfully the shadows and the anguish of this season of Lent and Holy Week and Easter. Eileen has done a powerful thing in the arrangement of the selections that the choir is singing for us this morning.


In just a few moments, we are going to hear the portion of Handel’s Messiah taken from the second Psalm: “Oh, why do the nations rage so furiously together?”  It is a patch of scripture that has stuck in my mind ever since I heard a Holocaust survivor say that it was common for pious Jews during the time of the Nazi Holocaust to gather together and to read these words from the second Psalm.  “Why do the goyim rage so furiously together? Why do the heathen rage?”


So ever since I heard that, whenever I seen films of Hitler speeches in which he talks with such fury and rage and passion, or when I have seen scenes of the Hitler youth or the brown shirts destroying all that was beautiful, the words have come to my mind: “Oh, why do the heathen rage?”


Several years ago Jane and I visited the Martin Luther King Jr. Museum in Atlanta and there are pictures, so many pictures, of white people standing with twisted faces as school or lunch counters are integrated.  As we walked through the museum, again and again I heard the words: “Oh, why do the heathen rage?”

Not long ago, when the Reconciling Ministries Network held our annual meeting at Lake Junaluska, the United Methodists’ gather site in North Carolina, I visited the KKK’s website that were opposing the presence of churches like us at Lake Junaluska and saw in large glaring letters the protests about us coming. Again, I remembered Psalm 2: “Oh, why do the heathen rage so furiously together?”


The psalm doesn’t come to mind because there some people who are heathens and some people who are not.  The psalm comes to mind because whenever we become possessed by hate, we become godless. Whenever we become possessed by hate, you or me or anyone else, we become heathens; we become godless. 


What Eileen has done this morning is to juxtapose Psalm 2 with Revelation 5, the final chorus of the Messiah.  “Why do the heathen rage?” And then, “Worthy is the lamb that was slain.” In this juxtaposition, we have the story of Lent and Holy Week, Good Friday and Easter.  This core conviction of our faith is that the rage of the heathen, the rage of the nations, can be overcome by the love of God, which carries our hate on the cross. 


Here is the kernel of the Christian story: that God returns love for evil, mercy for anger, vulnerability for violence. God invites us to be a people, who in the presence of the world’s rage and hate, return love, mercy, authenticity, honesty and vulnerability.  It is a story that we listen to and that we rehearse again and again, year after year, because we only half believe it, if that.  Most of us will go in the world after we have heard this story again this morning and count on power, count on strength, count on being able to defend ourselves. But we listen to this story because this is the story that we have been given. 


It is the story of a God who returns love for evil, mercy for rage, vulnerability for violence.  God invites us to live in this world in the same way. If we might only believe this much and manage to live it at least only this much, then God, though us, might transform the world into a place where the lamb who is slain receives power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing. 


May we listen to the story again and again until we can live it at least this much. The nations rage and God loves.