A more profound Alleluia

Here’s our monthly reflection for March – exploring Lenten themes – by Ray Adams.

People give up different things for Lent. The liturgies of Roman Catholic and some Anglican Churches during this period omit the singing of the ‘Alleluia’ in their liturgies, to emphasize the penitential nature of Lent, but also to contrast the season with the joy of Easter Day with its acclamation “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

In today’s Reformed churches we are often more ‘pick and mix’ with our liturgies – so much so that the great themes of Advent, Lent and Easter may not survive one special festival Sunday. Not having the same worship leader every Sunday can hinder a congregation’s experience of continuity and development of these great seasonal themes.

What an opportunity, therefore, for worship groups or church musicians to offer that continuity through their choices of hymns, songs and seasonal music!

Fred Pratt Green’s hymn “When in our music God is glorified(Rejoice and Sing #414) reminds us of the power of music to move us in worship “to a more profound alleluia”…and that ‘praise the Lord’ is not just a label for happy songs with lively rhythms, but may be the fruit of a deeper quest or discovery of God during the sombre and challenging experiences of life which, as the season of Lent acknowledges, is part of our human journey with God .

Both Matthew and Mark’s gospels tell us that with the prospect of suffering before him, when Jesus and his disciples had finished eating the Passover meal together in the upper room, and before they went out to the Mount of Olives, they sang a hymn:

And did not Jesus sing a psalm that night
When utmost evil strove against the Light?
Then let us sing, for whom he won the fight:
Alleluia!                           

The Jewish liturgy for the Passover meal included special hymns drawn from the book of Psalms, (the Hallel psalms, consisting of what we count as Psalms 113-118), so it is likely that these psalms were on Jesus’s lips on the night on which he was betrayed. We can deepen our own experience and understanding of the events of Holy Week by reading or singing versions of these psalms from our hymn books. Try using the ‘Index of Biblical Passages’ which you will find at the back of most hymn books (e.g. Rejoice and Sing pages 1129-1132) and discover the treasury of resources which hymn collections can offer. There are so many ways that we can enrich the experience of worship for ourselves and our congregations, leading us to utter ‘a more profound alleluia’.