If you have ever attended a live performance of Handel’s Messiah, you know that when you get to the Hallelujah Chorus, the climax of the production–you stand. But why? Theories abound. The most common being that King George II, attending the London premiere of “Messiah’’ in March of 1743, was so moved by the “Hallelujah’’ that he stood up – and when the king stands, everybody stands. But there is some historical dispute as to whether or not King George was even in attendance that night.
People did start standing up for the “Hallelujah’’ chorus fairly early on, though. In fact, they seemed to stand up for other numbers as well. Boston.com reports that churchman George Harris attended a 1750 performance of “Messiah,’’ with Handel conducting, and recorded some ‘people-watching’ in his diary: “The Duchess of Portland, the Bishops of Oxford, Gloucester, St David’s, & St Asaph there. At some of the chorus’s the company stood up.’’ A 1756 account records a “Messiah’’ crowd standing for the “grand choruses’’ – again note the plural. But perhaps a better question then, ‘why do we stand,’ is the question, ‘Do we understand the significance of what it means to stand?’
It was John Newton, the man who wrote Amazing Grace, who preached a series of sermons on the scriptural passages selected for “Messiah.’’ About the “Hallelujah’’ chorus, Newton observed: “The impression, which the performance of this passage…usually makes upon the audience, is well known…But do the professed lovers of sacred music in this enlightened age, generally live, as if they really believed that the Lord God omnipotent reigneth?” Newton’s point was obvious. If we are going to stand during the chorus of this musical masterpiece, how much more should we be standing and being counted in our day-to-day living before our King? Too often our lives reflect a ‘sitting’ posture rather than one that stands at attention when the King of Kings is ever present.