Benediction Online

Sunday, April 20, 2014


One day last week I found one of our church members in a local coffee shop, hunched over her laptop. I had time to spare and she was more than willing to put her work aside so we talked for nearly an hour, not so much about resurrection but about friends and death and grief, and how life goes on but is different. As I stood to leave she said, “I’m so glad we had this conversation – God must have meant it, oh, listen to what they’re playing.”

It has been the subject of a book and an hour long radio documentary. It was been voted one of the best 500 songs of all time and performed by more than 300 artists, but when it was first recorded in 1984, Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” received little attention. Cohen himself spent hours laboring over it and has written a total of 80 different verses, just 5 of which he uses in recordings.  

It is an extraordinary poem set to haunting music which contrasts two quite different experiences of Hallelujah. The first comes to us when we have peak experiences – a sense of oneness with the divine which comes unbidden in a moment of prayer or worship; or a sense of oneness with all creation as we watch the sun set over the ocean; or the joy of new life in a baby or a kitten; or the thrill of recognition in a moment of deep intimacy. At all these times, a rousing, growing, thrilling Hallelujah bursts up and out – as Cohen recalls, “every breath we drew was Hallelujah.”

He contrasts that glorious Easter morning “Hallelujah” with times of sadness and difficulty when, he says, “it’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah” that we sing.

Today we celebrate the resurrection. We celebrate that Jesus the Christ rose from the dead. Our song is one of Hallelujah because we know that in his resurrection he has opened for us the path to our own resurrection. This is a day of joy, of celebration and of song. Yet it comes in a bundle. It comes in a bundle with Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. We cannot comprehend the joy of Easter unless we also know the sadness, failure and grief that come before it. We cannot truly sing the Easter Hallelujah without acknowledging the cold and broken hallelujahs of the days preceding it.

In his resurrection, Jesus turned the tables on the darkness of the sin matrix. It thought it had him. The worst that sin can do is lead us into spiritual darkness and death. In that final confrontation, all the forces of darkness were arrayed against the light of the world. They used betrayal, threats, humiliation, pain, shame, taunts, agony but they could not persuade Jesus the light of the world, to use violence or anger against them. They could not force him to play their game.

As we hear in that glorious passage from the beginning of John’s gospel which we read every Christmas, “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

It looked for a while like it might overcome it, on Thursday night when the disciples couldn’t stay wake with Jesus and when the soldiers came to arrest him. It looked even worse on Friday when Jesus was nailed to a cross and hoisted into the sky to die of suffocation from the weight of his own body. Even on Sunday morning when both Marys came to the tomb and found it empty, it seemed as if the darkness had won.

But the stone was rolled away and the Christ had gone on before and every breath we drew was Hallelujah!

We know that Christ has completely conquered the sin matrix, yet it still does its best to keep us trapped. Yet we are a resurrection people. We are those who have been called to live the hallelujah of the resurrection even in the cold and broken places. So it becomes our spiritual practice to declare hope, to declare hallelujah even when hundreds of people die as a ferry capsizes, to declare hallelujah even when Russian forces mass on the Ukraine border, to declare hallelujah even when grief and pain assault us.

If there is one thing the powers of darkness cannot withstand it is hallelujah, even a cold and broken one.

Yet as we develop the practice of hallelujah, as we live the truth of the resurrection more and more until it becomes a part of us, a strange thing happens. “The angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid… he has been raised… go quickly and tell his disciples… he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.'” As we sing hallelujah even in cold and broken places so we begin to see, to perceive more quickly the possibility, the probability, no the certainty of resurrection. We come to trust that even when we are standing in shock looking at an empty tomb, even when we have no understanding of what just hit us, God is both standing next to us and is already ahead of us, moving forward, waiting for us to catch up.

Galilee was the disciple’s home turf. It was where they spent time with Jesus. It was where they first learned to sing the hallelujah that would resonate through the rest of their lives. Our Galilee is here in faith community, and in our hearts. In our Galilees we learn to discern the presence of the Christ, we learn the stories of his revelation not just in the distant past but fresh and new in our own lives and the lives of those around us. In our Galilees we learn the teachings of the Christ, prompted by the Holy Spirit, and quietly at first, then more and more confidently we sing the songs of resurrection until every breath we draw becomes an hallelujah!


  • "It comes in a bundle..." how true, sad and real. But I enjoy the promise that practice of the bright and shining hallelujah supports the light. Thank you for the hope and movement in this message!

    By Blogger Bernice Hall, at 9:21 AM  

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