We are an Alleluia people, and Alleluia is our song.
Alleluia is the song of Easter. We silence the Alleluia during Lent as we prepare for Christ’s Passion. And we proclaim it loudly and often when we celebrate the Resurrection throughout the Easter season. But what exactly is Alleluia? Where does it come from? What does it mean? And how should be best proclaim it?
Alleluia (sometimes spelled “Halleluiah”) is a Hebrew word usually translated, “Praise the Lord.” However, its roots go even deeper than the Hebrew language itself. It is an onomatopoeic expression of ululation. Ululation is that high pitched trill made by a coordinated chorus of vocal cords, tongue, teeth, and uvula. It is practiced by a number of tribes in Africa and the Middle East. Even though I have spent time in the Middle East, I have only heard the sound on movies, usually used to celebrate a tribal victory or rescue from certain death. It is a sound of rejoicing. It is both exciting and penetrating.
Alleluia is a word of excitement and unrestrained joy. It is a word to express the thrill victory and of being saved from certain death. That is why it is the Easter word. In the Resurrection, Christ wins the victory and saves all of us, in fact all of mankind, from certain and eternal death. We become sharers in His victory as we look forward to our own resurrection on the last day. And so, we rejoice in exultant praise, “Alleluia.”
Too often, we say it because it is the liturgy beginning and ending of the Gospel proclamation as a sort of bookend. We say it with little more enthusiasm than the period that preceded it and follows it. But saying or even shouting the Alleluia is not what Christ calls us to do. He calls us to live it.
In the Book of Common Prayer, there is a beautiful prayer of thanksgiving that includes the line, “We show forth your praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives; by giving up ourselves to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days.”
Alleluia is our song of praise. But it is not just something we say or sing. It so permeates who we are that it affects the way we live.
We are an Alleluia people and Alleluia is our song.