Did you have a crummy Lent? I did, but Christ still rose on Easter morning, and we can find redemption in our Alleluia song.
Two weeks into Lent, my sackcloth and ashes resolve dissipated in an ice-cream haze. I spent the next month and a half trying to right an ever-listing ship, vacillating between the renewal of my sacrificial promises and a complete throwing in of the towel. I ended up sailing into the Easter Triduum feeling like I hadn’t given up a thing.
On Sunday morning while everybody else was rediscovering what they’d let go, I was twiddling my thumbs in a business-as-usual sort of way.
Not exactly how I wanted to celebrate the resurrection of Christ.
Finding Redemption in Hallelujah
Are you at all familiar with the song “Hallelujah“? It was written by Leonard Cohen, but I was in high school the first time I encountered it on Jeff Buckley’s album Grace. My schoolgirl crush kept the song on repeat well into college and beyond, and I couldn’t get enough of Buckley’s tenor as he cried out King David’s fall from grace:
Now, I’ve heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don’t really care for music, do you?
It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing hallelujah
It wasn’t until years later that I learned Cohen had not only written the song, but that Buckley had chosen verses from a body of perhaps 80 Cohen had penned over the course of his career. Where Buckley’s version tells the wrenching tale of love lost between a man and woman, Cohen’s original lyrics reveal a man in the depths of a crisis of faith:
You say I took the name in vain
I don’t even know the name
But if I did, well really, what’s it to you?
There’s a blaze of light in every word
It doesn’t matter which you heard
The holy or the broken hallelujah.
The song’s been in my head since Easter Sunday, after almost a decade of rattling around in the forgotten crawl spaces of my brain.
I think it was the return to the Mass’s Alleluia that did it: in the midst of my ho-hum holiday I began to contemplate the meaning of the word and its place in my ragged state. Something about the song’s reference to David tugged at my sleeve, and I realized I had never read the story to which Cohen alludes. So late one night while we were visiting my in-laws for Easter, I pulled up 2 Samuel, chapter 11 and found one of the most graphic depictions of sin and temptation I have ever seen in Scripture.
From Baffled King to Contrite Psalmist
As the chapter opens, David finds himself entranced by Bathsheba, Uriah the Hittite’s wife. Uriah is conveniently off at war, and so David arranges an affair with Bathsheba. But when Bathsheba conceives a child, David must find a way to cover his tracks. What follows is a sordid tale of deception and murder, ultimately resulting in Uriah’s execution at David’s hands. Once Uriah is out of the way, David takes Bathsheba into his home as his wife, carrying on as though he’s done nothing wrong.
Fortunately for David, though, God sends the prophet Nathan to call him on his sin. David reacts with indignation at first, but eventually turns his heart back to God with a simple declaration: “I have sinned against the Lord.”
The full gravity of David’s transgressions become clear in the heartbreaking verses of the 51st Psalm:
Turn away your face from my sins;
blot out all my iniquities.
A clean heart create for me, God;
renew within me a steadfast spirit.
Do not drive me from before your face,
nor take from me your holy spirit.
Restore to me the gladness of your salvation;
uphold me with a willing spirit.
David really is a “baffled king.” He wants so much to do God’s will, and yet his human weakness overpowers him. Now my transgressions are nowhere close to the murder of a man and abduction of his wife, but all the same, I find myself in a similar mindset as David, reflected in the final stanza of Cohen’s “Hallelujah”:
I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the lord of song
With nothing on my tongue but hallelujah
After all that he has done, David stands before God with only contrition and praise. It’s not hard to imagine him crying out an Alleluia: “the nonverbal expression in song of a joy that requires no words because it transcends all words” (Dogma and Preaching, Pope Benedict XVI).
Lent might not have been perfect, but Christ still rose on Easter morning. We can certainly find reason for a jubilant cry of our own.
Copyright 2017 Ginny Kochis