Behold the Lamb (Holy Week, Sunday)

Posted on: 4 April 2020, by :

For Palm Sunday. This is the first post in a series for Holy Week and Easter Day, 2020.

Palm Sunday, when we remember Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, is commonly celebrated with joyful praise, in emulation of how Jesus was welcomed with palms and loud cheers of ‘Hosanna to the son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’

Instead, the librettist Charles Jennens, who designed the structure and text of Messiah before Handel set any of it to music, prefers to remind us that the Passion (and thus the whole of Holy Week) is about Christ’s death as a sacrifice. With this text from John 1:29 — ‘Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the Sin of the World’ — the Messiah is presented to us in a way analogous to Christ’s presentation to Jerusalem. This opening movement in Part Two of Messiah serves as the prelude to the events of the Passion alluded to in the next movements, which quote the Messianic prophesies from Isaiah 53:3-6 and 50:6.

Messiah was first performed in Dublin on 13 April and 3 June 1742. Although frequently performed these days in the run-up to Christmas, it was in fact intended by Jennens and Handel for performance in Holy Week or at least in the Lenten season.

A performance from August 2011 in the abbey of Saint-Robert in La Chaise-Dieu by the Prague-based Collegium 1704, directed by Václav Luks. The complete performance is here.

A recording by the Monteverdi Choir and The English Baroque Soloists, directed by John Eliot Gardiner.