From: Pete Williamson
Hallelu God in his sanctuary;
hallelu him in his mighty heavens!
Hallelu him for his mighty deeds;
hallelu him according to his excellent greatness!
Hallelu him with trumpet sound;
hallelu him with lute and harp!
Hallelu him with tambourine and dance;
hallelu him with strings and pipe!
Hallelu him with sounding cymbals;
hallelu him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that has breath hallelu-Yah!
- Hallelu – “Praise!” (an exhortation to praise)
- Yah – short for YHWH (God’s divine name) often translated as “The LORD”
Last year I went to a performance of Handel’s Messiah hosted by the Handel and Haydn Society. As I sat down with the program, excited to hear the Gospel proclaimed with such unique beauty, I had a realization: I really only know one part of Handel’s Messiah. No prizes for guessing which part. It was, of course, the Hallelujah Chorus. I enjoyed the entire performance, but there was a part of me that spent the whole time just waiting for this one famous chorus.
The Hallelujah Chorus was not intended to be the climax of Handel’s Messiah, but to many it is exactly that. There is something right about “Hallelujah” becoming the de facto climax of this oratorio. Everything seems to be building pressure until finally explodes with an overwhelming “HALLELUJAH!”. “Hallelujah” gives such genuine voice to the deepest desire of our true self – the desire to praise God – that it usually remains untranslated. It bypasses the need for our rational faculties. It is simply the overflow of all that is right about being human in the world before God. Hallelujah!
We come today to the end of the psalms. Because each psalm is, to some extent, a stand-alone poem, we often neglect to look for a larger structure in the Book of Psalms. But the Psalms take us on a journey, establishing us on the Law of God, sending us into the darkest night of the soul, drawing us to repentance, and offering hope. The Psalms send us into exile, then marches us back up to Zion with joyful songs of ascent, standing on the steadfast love of God which cannot be shaken. They celebrate the Kingship of God and the Kingship of David which will ultimately unify in Jesus Christ. Psalms is divided into five books, each ending in a doxology (check the endings of psalms 41, 72, 89, and 106), but the greatest doxology is left until the very end. After the entire salvation history of Israel and humankind is sang through the psalms, there is nothing left to do but praise the Lord. The entire Book of Psalms is building and building until the pressure becomes too much and in Psalm 146 the pressure-cap blows off and all that comes out is Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah!
You’ll notice that these five final psalms all start and end with hallelujah (or ‘praise the Lord’). You’ll notice that they do not have those subheadings which many psalms have – ‘hallelujah’ is title enough. You’ll notice that they are full of the word ‘praise’. In fact, in Psalm 150 (almost) every line starts with “Praise!” or “Hallelu”. The final words in the Book of Psalms are “Let everything that has breath hallelu-Yah! Hallelu-Yah!” This is the cacophony of praise that is the fitting conclusion of the story of God!
So, I encourage you to look at your life, your story, the world around you with all its complexities and know that regardless of how things feel today or this year, you have hope in the reality that all of this is building towards that divine moment when there is nothing left to say but Hallelujah!
I hang out with my expectant wife and non-expectant dog in Dorchester. I also hang out with grad students at Harvard. I am one of the kiwis slowly taking over your church.