Sunday, November 11, 2007

Immanuel: an oratorio

The wife and I went to a performance of Messiah tonight. I'd never heard the whole thing before (I guess technically I still haven't, since they cut about a dozen of the 40-some sections). It was cool to hear the progression from one biblical text to another. It gave me an idea, though; an idea that, like any good idea I have, has been thought of 7,000 times before.

Here's the idea: an oratorio about the biblical concept of "God with us." It would trace the troubled history of this promise from the intimacy of the Garden, to the terrifying encounter at Sinai, through the Tabernacle and the Temple; the Immanuel prophecy in Isaiah 7; the departure of God's presence in Ezekiel and the horrible consequences in Lamentations; the promise of his return in Isaiah 40 and Haggai; the promise of God's Spirit in Joel; the Incarnation in the Gospels; the establishment of the Church as God's Temple in Acts and the Epistles; and finally, the coming of the Son of Man and the New Heaven and New Earth.

I imagine it would be best to start the story in media res, perhaps with Isaiah 7, and flash back to earlier moments. A major objective would be to demonstrate through music and text that God and people don't just casually inhabit the same space. Everyone else in the world seems to know this, but the Christian and post-Christian West needs to relearn that it is a dangerous thing to have a god in your midst. A big highlight (or lowlight, I guess) at the end of the second movement would be the despair at the end of Lamentations:

You, LORD, reign forever;
your throne endures from generation to generation.

Why do you always forget us?
Why do you forsake us so long?

Restore us to yourself, LORD, that we may return;
renew our days as of old

unless you have utterly rejected us

and are angry with us beyond measure. -- Lamentations 5:19-22, TNIV

Then, softly and sweetly, Isaiah 40 would begin the healing.

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