1 Praise the LORD.
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heavens.
2 Praise him for his acts of power;
praise him for his surpassing greatness.
3 Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
praise him with the harp and guitar,
4 praise him with tambourine and dancing,
praise him with the strings and pipe,
5 praise him with the clash of cymbals,
praise him with resounding cymbals.
6 Let everything that has breath praise the LORD.
Praise the LORD.
I served a church in Lexington, KY while I was in seminary. It was there tradition to sing the Hallelujah Chorus on Easter Sunday. Everyone who wanted to was invited to come up to the altar and sing the chorus with the choir. There was probably 100 people the Easter I was with them. The Hallelujah Chorus is a familiar hymn that many know and can at least get in a couple hallelujahs on the right key at the right time.
I found an interesting interpretation of the word hallelujah. Hallelujah is Hebrew for praise the Lord. Hallel is the ver to praise and hallelu is the you plural imperative to praise. Jah is the short name for Yahweh, God’s Name given to Moses at the burning bush. Hallelujah is the word used in the Hebrew of the psalm read today. Instead of praise the Lord, we could have rightly said hallelujah.
As the you plural imperative, hallelujah tells us a lot. It is a command to praise the Lord, not just an invitation or a suggestion. We are commanded to praise the Lord. Further, the you is plural. This is not an individual command. It means all of you, the whole community, including everything that has breath, should praise Yahweh.
Hallelujah is used 13 times in just 6 verses. You all praise Yahweh seems a fitting end to the book of Psalms. The book, which is also known as the Psalter, is 150 songs and prayers. The prayers and songs are cries for salvation, lament over death, and words of dependence. The book ends with praise. The book follows the movement from Good Friday to Easter morning. Lament leads to praise. On Friday, Jesus cried the words from Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” But, on Sunday morning, we sing Yahweh’s praise. The Psalter ends with this final song, the command to praise Yahweh after all our prayers (http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=562).
“Eugene Peterson writes of this movement of the Psalter…: This is not a ‘word of praise’ slapped onto whatever mess we are in at the moment. This crafted conclusion of the Psalms tells us that our prayers are going to end in praise, but that it is also going to take awhile. Don’t rush it. It may take years, decades even, before certain prayers arrive at the hallelujahs….Not every prayer is capped off with praise. In fact most prayers, if the Psalter is a true guide, are not. But prayer, a praying life, finally becomes praise. Prayer is always reaching towards praise and will finally arrive there. If we persist in prayer, laugh and cry, doubt and believe, struggle and dance and then struggle again, we will surely end up at Psalm 150, on our feet, applauding, “Encore! Encore!”” (Ibid).
Our worship service every Sunday is much like the Psalter. We begin with a song of praise and move into prayer. We sing a song that admits our dependence on God’s care. We sing again acknowledging our commitment to God. We end with a song of praise. I don’t know the history of Christian liturgy and the development of worship to know if this is a coincidence or not, but it seems our worship follows the pattern of praise and prayer set forth by the Psalter.
Our worship service is a little different this morning, but we still followed the pattern of praise, prayer, singing, and praise. I changed things a bit, so we could sing more. I thought what better way to remember this Psalm and commit ourselves to its teaching than to sing more.
The music we sing in worship, our Christian hymns, teach us faith and theology. Many hymns include words from Scripture teaching us the Bible. They confess our dependence on God better than we can say ourselves. They praise God for creation and care and providence in words we find true. Some say our hymns are better than sermons, because we remember words of hymns better than we remember a sermon.
Music is much like a picture. A picture reminds us of a time and a place. Songs too remind us of moments in our lives. “We can remember music as if it is a permanent memory” (Rev. David Lose, Festival of Homiletics, 2014). We can’t remember where our keys are, but we can remember a song from 20 years ago. In singing that song, we are carried back to a moment when we heard that song. We can remember the people we were with and how we felt. Music transcends time as it lives in our souls.
When I’m planning worship and turning the pages of the hymnal choosing songs, it is like flipping through a photo album. I remember when I sang hymns on different occasions. In The Garden reminds me of the many friends whose funerals I have officiated in which we sang the hymn. For the Beauty of the Earth was the first song I learned to play on the piano and my friend, Tom, played it at my ordination service. Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty reminds of walking home to my seminary apartment late one night from the library. Tom was practicing late in the chapel and playing that hymn. Swing Low, Sweet Chariot and They Will Know We Are Christians by our Love reminds me of camp. Sanctuary reminds me of the Hunger Weekend for youth held each year in Lexington. Spirit reminds me of my friend, Andrea’s ordination.
Most of my musical memories in the church are hymns. There is only one contemporary Christian song that I have a memory of. I was having a really, really bad day in a rough week in a heck of a month. I was crying and attempting to drive. I had turned off the radio and the sound of my prayers filled the car. Finally, I was tired of listening to myself cry and couldn’t pray anymore. I turned on the radio and the DJ said one word, listen. Then, the song More by Matthew West began playing. The lyrics go:
Take a look at the mountains stretching a mile high
Take a look at the ocean far as your eye can see
And think of me
Take a look at the desert. Do you feel like a grain of sand?
I am with you wherever, where you go is where I am
And I’m always thinking of you, take a look around
I’m spelling it out one by one
I love you more than the sun and the stars that I taught how to shine
You are mine, and you shine for me too
I love you yesterday and today and tomorrow
I’ll say it again and again
I love you more
Those were words I needed to hear in that moment and those words, that song, will always take me back to that moment in the car on that terrible day. And, I praise God. I praise God, because it has passed. The troubles I cried about have all been reconciled. As Eugene Peterson said, it may be years but our laments will lead to praise. Just like the Psalms, we may have deep words of desperation and need for salvation, but we end with praise of Yahweh.
As we sing the Hymn of Commitment, I want you to think about a hymn that reminds you of a day or a time, a hymn that taught you a Scripture, a hymn that reminds you of someone, or a hymn that expresses your faith better than others. After we’ve sung, we can share our memories with one another.