In an episode of Little Mosque on the Prairie, Reverend Magee attempts to teach the members of Mercy Mosque what it is like to be Anglican. His description of a congregation ‘dragging themselves up [to worship] like a teenager asked to do the dishes” is both humorous and uncomfortably accurate. After all, don’t all caricatures have some basis in reality? I particularly find this in our expression of Alleluia upon the close of our service. Have you ever noticed that this word is not often said with enthusiasm or gusto? This is also true at the beginning of our service, when worship begins with the triumphant expression “Alleluia, Christ is Risen!” Sometimes doesn’t it feel like the response “The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!” is not so much exclaimed but read?
Of course, this isn’t true at Easter. Coming off of Lent, we approach the celebration of Easter with enthusiasm and joy – and this is felt in our Alleluias. The 40 days spent in Alleluia silence is now reversed, and the word beckons in our congregations with force and vibrancy. Yet once we move away from that celebration, it seems as if our Alleluias are beginning to soften. It seems like we have forgotten that there is an exclamation point at the end of that word.
Why is this the case? From where does this reticence to render enthusiastic Alleluia’s come from? After all, the word itself means ‘Praise to the LORD.’ It occurs throughout the Psalms both as a call to worship and an expression of it, and in the 19th chapter of Revelation, we see it is the cry of the saints in glory. Again, in each of these times, the word ends with exclamation. It is offered in vibrancy and enthusiasm. Personally, I find the word Alleluia to be one of the most profound in all of our liturgy precisely because the meaning of the word is found in its very expression. To say ‘Praise be to the LORD’ is to render forth that very act. Yet when our Alleluias sound more like belaboured yawns than jubilant exclamations, what does this say about our worship?
Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to be critical of our local congregations. The truth of the matter is that clergy fall into this trap as well. I am often confused, shocked, and a little uncomfortable when I stand surrounded by clerical counterparts, and there is no jubilant response of “Alleluia!” upon the end of our service. Yet isn’t ending our service of worship with the shout of “Alleluia” important and meaningful? It seems to me that the shout of “Alleluia!” has a dual purpose upon the close of our liturgy. On one hand, we declare our praise to the one who has spoken and acted in word and sacrament; it is a response to the spirit of God which has moved, blessed, challenged, and inspired us throughout our service. On the other hand it is an expression of our willingness to go out from our service in an attitude of worship and reverence; it declares that our time outside the church will be as much an act of worship as the time within. St. Agustin is noted to have said that “a Christian should be an ‘Alleluia’ from head to foot.” Our life in faith should ooze with praise and worship – so much so that it comes rushing out of us when we are given the opportunity. Our intense desire to give all praise and worship to our Lord and Saviour should be expressed in the very word which holds that very meaning.
I want my life to be an Alleluia to my God. And in the vain, I want to my utterance of that word to be the full expression of its meaning. True, this isn’t just about loudness. As big of a point as I have made about the exclamation point at the end of the word, this isn’t just about shouting the word from the top of my lungs, and hurting the ears of those around us. But neither is the word to be kept under our breaths. We should never shy away from allowing this word to be heard spoken in our own voice.
So the next time you are in church, I encourage you to say “Alleluia!” at every given opportunity with the most passion, joy, hope, and faithful exuberance that you can muster. Don’t just read the word from the page, or say it as the appropriate liturgical response; allow the word to fulfill its meaning, and speak it as an act of praise and adoration.