New ways to sing, “Alleluia”

In this month’s edition of “Create in Me,” we share a new hymn written by John T. (Jack) Hicks, a retired Moravian pastor and church musician living in Madison, Wis.; an interpretation of that new hymn with a new tune by organist and composer, Jill Bruckart; and thoughts on using this new hymn in today’s worship from the Rev. Andy Meckstroth.

A new hymn: “There is an Alleluia”

“Some of the many blessings of being in ministry are the times when we are invited to share in the deep places and struggles facing the people who trust us,” says John. “This hymn came through me at a time when I was being reminded of just how difficult it can be to claim God’s presence, or even to pray, when we are facing the pain of someone we love, or our own challenges. In such times, the church can be quick to encourage us to get on our knees but, often, that is the last place we are able to be.

“A friend who had just been diagnosed with cancer was gracious enough to include me in his anger and despair,” continues John. “This hymn was inspired by him as one of many who face overwhelming times in their lives.  He reminded me that, at times, the faith-and-life-affirming word ‘Alleluia!’ can be too intimate and powerful, too honest to claim, too close to our souls to use. Sometimes we need to give ourselves space and wait to speak. Yet there it is, always waiting quietly and painfully in our hearts for the time when, through the grace of God, it is all we can finally say. Praise God.”  

“I have selected two common hymn tunes with which this text can be shared with the congregation: ‘Aurelia,’  for a time when more community encouragement is needed, and ‘Passion Chorale,’ for when the intimacy of faith needs to be emphasized.”

There is an Alleluia

There is an Alleluia still waiting to be heard,
to voice in desp’rate moment, an echo of God’s Word
of comfort and of healing, of peace and promise, too;
of justice joined with mercy, of faith once more renewed.

No Easter Alleluia with trumpets and loud hymns
of resurrection glory expressed in praiseful din.
It comes, just barely spoken, when faith must look within
at life’s deep, painful journey; at love grown strangely thin.

This quiet Alleluia is full of depth and awe;
a blessing to the Lord when life is cold and raw;
sometimes expressing anger, sometimes our honest fear,
profound and full of conflict, a prayer just God will hear.

We pray this Alleluia when other prayers depart.
It goes from us in blessing straight to God’s loving hear.
So bless the Lord, my soul, in whispered, holy word,
a sacred Alleluia still waiting to be heard.

 

John initially wrote this hymn to go with two common hymn tunes. Jill Bruckart, church musician currently working at Ziegels Union Church in Breiningsville, Pa., set the hymn to a new tune and shares it here:

 

On using this new “Alleluia”

In Leonard Cohen’s secular anthem, “Alleluia,” the argument is made, across seven verses, that sometimes even when everything goes wrong, our experiences on the journey to that failure still merit praise.

While Christians of many types have sought to recast the lyrics of a love gone wrong to fit a context worthy of singing in worship, the central idea matches a worthy theological belief: in all of our circumstances and situations, on every journey and through every trial, God is worthy of praise.

It is a blessing, then, to have as a resource the new hymn, “There is an Alleluia.”  It is a reminder that in times of brokenness, disquiet, failure and loss, we are still loved by a God beyond all human experience. It is a call for the whispers of praise that still can come through tears and shattered dreams. It is a claim that God, who is not the disaster but who stands beside us in the disaster, is always worthy of praise. 

As I am planning worship, I will consider this hymn when we are exploring God’s presence in trial and brokenness. It would be fitting as a response to Psalm 130 (“Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice!”), or 2 Corinthians 4.16f, (“Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure”), or almost any text from Jeremiah. I will consider it on any Sunday we explore trials, illness, devastation following storms, or societal problems. I will also consider it for the celebration of prophets, martyrs and saints—even for funerals of local saints who struggled without losing heart. 

Given how difficult life can be, it is vital that we focus beyond our perception of our personal reality.  We are called to remember that God’s creation continues into the unknowable future, and that God’s redemption fulfills situations beyond our understanding, and that God blesses us in ways we may never grasp.  Amid difficulty, trial and challenge, our faith moves us forward and our hope is in God’s eternity. We can always, even meekly or quietly, but hopefully and gently, sing “Alleluia.”

The Rev. Andy Meckstroth currently serves the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) as pastor of Ziegels Union Church in Breinigsville, Pa.