This week marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of the German composer Felix Mendelssohn– February 3, 1809. He was a child prodigy on the order of Mozart, making his first public concert appearance at the age of nine. He also began composing before his teen years and while Mendelssohn is one of our most prolific composers (probably best known for ‘Wedding March”), he also
composed symphonies, chamber music, oratorios and concerti—over 700 pieces in all.
His family was Jewish, but later converted to Christianity. The conversion was accompanied by a name change – Bartholdy. In a letter, Mendelssohn’s father Abraham explained that the name change was necessary to signal a decisive break with the past allegiances: “there can no more be a Christian Mendelssohn than there can be a Jewish Confucius.” Felix never entirely dropped Mendelssohn, but out of deference to his father’s wishes signed his letters “Mendelssohn Bartholdy”.
The name change could not, however, hide the family’s roots, and when anti-Semitism got a foothold in Europe in the late 19th century and went viral under the Nazi philosophy, much of Mendelssohn’s work was squelched. Only in recent years have his works began to appear with increasing regularity on concert programs.
Increased performance has led to increased study of Mendelssohn as well. Over the last decade or so, researchers have discovered hundreds of new works by Mendelssohn that have never been published or performed. Some manuscripts were in files or trunks or closets – quiet and dusty with age, yet pulsing with life to be revealed. Last week, several were performed for the first time in a recital at the Jewish Cultural Center in New York City. Listen here. Some say we might be hearing new works from Mendelssohn for the next fifty years!
That got me thinking: are there other hidden masterpieces around us? Are there wonders that lie just underneath the surface of our lives? Does undiscovered beauty lie in our children or the friend we wave to on the way out of the driveway every morning? Is there a stunning surprise that no one has ever heard or seen or considered in somebody in our faith family, that we sit next to every Lord’s Day morning?
I think that is entirely possible. God says that each person is “fearfully and wonderfully made…intricately woven” (Ps. 139:14, 15) Worship leader David Crowder gets at this when he sings, “My eyes are small, but they have seen the beauty of enormous things– which leads me to believe there’s light enough to see You make everything glorious, and I am yours. What does that make me?” Every person on the planet is a wonder of glory. A shining of Glory. In any simple human being – no matter how offbeat or quirky, no matter the personality or physical looks, no matter the politics or lifestyle, no matter the distortion of sin and Godward rebellion– there is a slice of heavenly wonder. Look close. Listen carefully. You don’t want to miss it when Glory passes by.
But beyond that, those who come to a relationship with Jesus are being recreated to live what God had in mind for their unique life from the very beginning. By the Spirit’s indwelling and gifting, by soul restoration and life-shaping, the Christian is made into something astonishing. We were dead sinners,
“But God, being rich in mercy…made us alive together with Christ….by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Eph.2:4-5, 8-10)
Workmanship is often translated “masterpiece”. Can you believe that? Every Christian is a new masterpiece of God’s grace. As surely as an artist puts a brush to canvas or Mendelssohn put pen to parchment to manuscript a symphony, our heavenly Father handcrafts each believer for a unique life that expresses some aspect of His grace that no one else on the planet can display.
If you are Christ’s, that is what you are—a masterpiece! Can you accept that truth? Every Christian you know at our church is a masterpiece, too– a work of heavenly art meant to take people’s breath away. It’s not so much you that is breathtaking; it’s the one-of-a-kind wonder and beauty of grace in you. You see, the masterpiece only serves to draw attention to the Artist. As you and I live faithful, grateful, gospel-shaped lives, it just shows the astonishing depth and breadth of our Savior’s life-shaping love.
So, the next time you’re with another Christian, look closely. A masterpiece are on display. Listen carefully—you’ll hear the strains of a heavenly melody not even Mendelssohn can match.