You may know of the Academy Award-winning film, “Babette’s Feast,” which is set on the remote western coast of Denmark in the 19th century. One of the characters in the film is an elderly man who has seemingly lost his ability to speak, except for one word: “Hallelujah.” And he says “Hallelujah” all the time. Whether the conversation is about food or the weather or a friendship, or a feast, his one-word response is always, “Hallelujah.” It’s a very good word: “Hallelujah.” If you have nothing else to say, or, especially, if you have nothing good to say, say “Hallelujah.” During Eastertide, we say “Hallelujah” out loud, almost endlessly, when we gather to pray and worship. Saying “Hallelujah” is also a very good word to say personally as you make your way through the day.
“Hallelujah” is a Hebrew word that means “praise the Lord.” The word does not appear in the Gospel according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. The word “Hallelujah” does not appear anywhere in the New Testament except in the last book. In one chapter of the Revelation to John it’s like the last word. There we read about “Hallelujah” as the chant of the choirs of heaven singing praise, and glory, and gratitude to God who is the beginning, and the end, and the way of life.
Claiming the word “Hallelujah” in our personal vocabulary is an elixir from the delusion that we are God. Claiming the word “Hallelujah” spares us from thinking it is all up to us, spares us from taking life for granted, spares us from the myopia of seeing life as only an earthbound experience. Life on this earth is real, indeed, but it’s also a preparation and participation in the life that is to come. Life is changed, not ended, at the time of our death. By saying “Hallelujah” we put ourselves in our place: creatures of God, participating in what Jesus called bringing the mission of God to earth: “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Saying “Hallelujah” expresses our personal gratitude for the gift of life and giver of life.
You might find it inviting to say “Hallelujah” under your breath throughout the day as you take in life, and as you take on life. Notice the panoply of spring buds on the trees, look at the brave little flowers peeping up from the cold earth, listen to the birds singing their solos; savor the fragrances and aromas of creation; revere what God has created in human life – all of us so different from one another – in age, in skin color, in gender, in abilities and vocations and preferences of every kind – all of us so different, and yet so much the same. Saying “Hallelujah” under your breath a myriad of times throughout the day is claiming your voice and claiming your part in what God is up to which, if you stand back and take it in, and step up to take it on, is wonderful, is absolutely amazing, this gift of life. Who could have imagined what God has imagined? Hallelujah.
- “Babette’s Feast,” produced in 1987, won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
- The word “Hallelujah” appears four times in Revelation 19:1-10. The word “Hallelujah” appears more than 22 times in the Psalms. (“Alleluia” is the Latin equivalent of the Hebrew “Hallelujah.”)
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