Another of the choruses in Messiah is “His Yoke is Easy,” taken from Mt. 11:30. It follows immediately on the heels of the wonderful Alto and Soprano Airs, “He Shall Feed His Flock” (which I sang for my audition, anyone’s interested) and “Come Unto Him.” The airs are a gentle, serene legato (smooth and connected); the chorus completes the passage with a light, airy series of melismas — a single syllable sung over multiple notes (think how the word “Gloria” is expanded over many notes in “Angels We Have Heard on High”) — “His yoke is easy, and his burthen is light.”
The joke is, the piece isn’t easy! In fact, my section leader sent us the notes on this chorus in an email entitled “His Yoke Is Easy — but this piece isn’t!” It’s hard work perfecting those 16th-note melismas so they sound light-hearted and airy and even playful, rather than heavy, thumping and downright pedestrian.
It occurs to me, practicing at the piano last week and this, that this chorus is a great metaphor for being a Christian. His yoke is easy, His burden is light… but to train ourselves to take it up and joyfully to fling ourselves into His life of grace is a hard lesson to achieve. But look! I spend minutes each day at the piano, working out these runs in very slow and plodding steps so that, when December 11 rolls around and we’re performing this cantata before an audience, I’ll be able to trip those 16th notes as lightly as a feather floating through the air, or a child skipping a rope in unself-conscious joy. I practice similar exercises in prayer, spiritual discipline and attempted obedience so that in the really crucial hours of need I can lightly, gracefully perform that service for which God is preparing me.
It’s all about preparation, practice.