(revised from a posting first published February 16, 2012)
This Sunday marks the end of the Epiphany season and a chance to relish the word “alleluia”, before it disappears from our prayers and hymns until Easter. As it happens alleluia is one of the most perfect words for singing. The vowels float on your breath, the only consonant is one of the easiest and most comfortable to sing, and it’s almost impossible to sing the word incorrectly – unless you’re from a part of the country that renders it into “alleluyer”!
Hallelujah is the same word, though with more consonants, implying more bite to the sound (Handel’s Alleluia Chorus?). This word in various forms exists in all three of the Abrahamic traditions, which is a lovely thing to think about at a time when we so often put more effort into finding differences between faith traditions. The word hallel in Hebrew means joyous praise, to boast in God, or to act madly or foolishly, though Hallelujah is usually simply translated as “Praise Yahweh”. How unfortunate. Had I been asked, I would have translated it as “Boast Madly in God”. Is that why I wasn’t consulted?
We are called sometimes to act foolishly, or boldly, or even madly. During the coming Lenten season, which begins with next week’s Ash Wednesday services, we might be called to be introspective, meditative or perhaps even reclusive. What we are never called to be is boring. Take in these final alleluias on Sunday as permission to be bold in your thoughts and actions, foolish and mad in your boasting of God’s love for yourself and this world we live in.
This Sunday at St. Alban’s the choirs at the morning services will sing Gerald Near’s Sing Alleluia Forth. The only recording I could find to share with you is from its premiere at Washington National Cathedral during the closing service of a national conference of the American Guild of Organists in 1982. It’s a magnificent recording, followed by two unexpected treats – glorious hymn singing of a tune that we usually sing with quiet words for Epiphany, but which is sung here, boldly (!), with a strong text by Charles Wesley, and also an interview with Richard Wayne Dirksen, then Organist and Choirmaster at the Cathedral. Sing Alleluia Forth begins at the 32:50 minute mark.