Liturgy Lessons: Easter Sunday | April 16, 2017
All but one of this Easter Sunday’s hymns and songs include an “Alleluia” refrain. The word “Alleluia” or “Hallelujah” comes from the Hebrew “Hallel-ya,” which literally means “Praise ye Yah,” a short form of “Praise Yahweh” and often rendered as “praise the Lord.” The Hebrew word “Halleluya” as an expression of praise to God was preserved, untranslated, by the Early Christians as a superlative expression of thanksgiving, joy, and triumph. In the Mass, the word “Alleluia” is associated with joy and is especially favored in Paschal time, the time between Easter and Pentecost, perhaps because of the association of the Hallel (Alleluia psalms) chanted at Passover. During this time, the word is added widely to verses and responses associated with prayers, to antiphons of psalms. Some of the most ornate chants in church history were composed on a single word “Alleluia”.
From the ancient temple to the medieval cathedral, from Handel to Leonard Cohen, the word “alleluia” has been perhaps the most popular lyric in the history of western music. It comes as close as a word can come in embodying the depth and dimensions of Christian worship. We honor the liturgical tradition to exclude it from services during the Lenten season. But on Easter morning we let it burst forth from this quiet tomb, and we celebrate its reappearance in our liturgy with multiple shouts of “Alleluia!” In our opening hymn alone, it is sung 20 times! Combine all the refrains in the service, and you probably have almost 100 utterances of the word. Every which way you slice it, our Easter morning is one continuous Hollerlujah! Hallelu-YEAH! Christ is Risen, and the song shall never end. Alleluia! Alleluia indeed!
Christ the Lord is Risen Today
Text: Charles Wesley
Music: John Arnold (1749), altered from Lyrica Davidica (1708)
The title of this tune is “Easter Hymn.” For the modern church, it has become the quintessential resurrection Sunday hymn. Unlike hotdogs at the ballpark or bad popcorn at the movies, singing this hymn at Easter is a ritual that is worth repeating. It is a fervent fanfare and a fight song, made all the more powerful by the placing of the poetry in the present moment. Christ the Lord “IS” risen today!
It’s not just a quaint footnote in history, but an ongoing and living hope that we celebrate. It has been said that every Sunday is a “little Easter,” as we re-enact the redemptive story of our salvation throughout the liturgy. For the actual Easter Sunday, this hymn takes us back two millennia as fellow “witnesses” of the resurrection, bringing the true story to life in a profound way. Adding to its ebullient praise are the reoccurring “alleluias” after each line of text. We state a truth about our new life in Christ in mostly quarter notes and then respond with a florid “alleluia.” This year our liturgical readings are book-ended by this hymn. We open the service with the first three verses, and then respond later with the final two verses. Practice those “alleluias”!
Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands
Text: Martin Luther (1524)
Music: Matthew Curl (2005)
“Christ lag in Todesbanden” (“Christ lay in death’s bonds”) is an Easter hymn by Martin Luther that was very popular in post-reformation Germany. It was normally associated with a melody by Johann Walter that was based on a Medeival chant. The hymn was used by Pachebel, Telemann, and Bach as source material for some of their compositions. Bach based an entire Easter cantata on this hymn, and that tune is the same one that appears in our Trinity Hymnal. The hymn text focuses on the struggle between life and death and the victory that Christ’s resurrection won in that battle. It quotes Revelations and Corinthians, giving glimpses of Christ’s triumph in removing the “sting” of sin, and it ends with a celebratory call to keep the feast of the Paschal Lamb. Each verse concludes with an “Alleluia” refrain. We are singing a re-tuned setting of this hymn by contemporary songwriter Matthew Curl, the music pastor at Intown Church in Portland, Oregon. Matthew’s rendition, brought to us by Pastor Casey, is a well-crafted melody with a folk vibe. What I love most about Matthew’s setting is that he extended the “alleluia’ refrain. In the original hymn, “Alleluia” is only stated once at the end of each verse, but in Curl’s version, it is sung four times and the phrases are elongated for effect. I encourage you to listen to the recording below for familiarity. Perhaps put it on repeat during your Saturday morning routine so that you can more confidently launch into those “alleluias” on Sunday morning.
Lead sheet: https://www.dropbox.com/s/7m27t3m0c9krriu/Christ%20Jesus%20Lay%20In%20Death%27s%20Strong%20Bands%20LS.pdf?dl=0