Hallelujah or Alleluia?

We had a question during our Sunday Bible class about which was appropriate: Hallelujah or Alleluia for us to say. I didn’t have a good answer and our music director, Scott, provided a thoughtful response that satisfied everyone. In doing a little bit of searching I discovered the following article from “Canadian Lutherans Online.” I pray it offers some helpful insight for everyone:

by Peggy Pedersen

“Hallelujah” is a transliteration of a Hebrew word. The Greek is “alleluia.” Both mean Praise Yah—a shortened form of Yahweh, the Holy Name of God. The word appears 24 times in the Book of Psalms. Because of its Hebrew origin, it has been used in Christian worship since earliest times.

To reflect the sombre penitential nature of the Lenten season, the Alleluia and its associated Gloria in Excelsis (“Glory to God in the highest”) is not sung in the Lenten liturgy in the Western churches. The arrival of Easter is therefore all the more joyful with proclamations of praise. “Alleluia!” we proclaim. “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!” This joyful term has even passed into secular parlance to express happiness.

Handel’s “Hallelujah chorus” is well known around the world and culminates the story of The Messiah, celebrating Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. That event evokes the highest human and angelic praise of God for saving fallen mankind through His own Son’s suffering and shed blood. When all seems darkest, all seems lost, when even God is dead and the tomb closes round our last and greatest hope. When sin and death have silenced even the Word of God, suddenly a light breaks forth that shatters the darkness, shakes the world, and changes everything forevermore—the Risen Christ, Victor over sin and death, Redeemer of our souls, Giver of Eternal Life! How can we not erupt in joy, alleluias pouring from our lips?

When sin and death have silenced even the Word of God, suddenly a light breaks forth that shatters the darkness, shakes the world, and changes everything forevermore—the Risen Christ, Victor over sin and death, Redeemer of our souls, Giver of Eternal Life! How can we not erupt in joy, alleluias pouring from our lips?

That praise is sent heavenward to the living God, who in this act of salvation shows Himself both righteous and merciful, a God who does not clear the guilty but pardons the penitent. Christ Himself took our guilt, judged it, and accepted our sentence. Now God Himself justifies us in the in the raising of His Son. In Baptism we are joined to Christ in His death (for judgment) and in His resurrection (for forgiveness and eternal life). In His resurrection we too are raised to newness of life. “In fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. As by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:20-21). By His resurrection, we are assured of the truth of His words, His divinity, and His power to save. We know that, as our living Saviour, He is always with us and always making intercession for us.

The resurrection is not just another event in Jesus’ life or another miraculous raising, like that of Lazarus and Jairus’ daughter. They were raised to live a little longer before going the way of all flesh. Jesus is raised to live forever. He says, “For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself” (John 5:26). And this life he now shares with us. He proclaims, “Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and they will rise again. Those who have done good will rise to experience eternal life, and those who have continued in evil will rise to experience judgment” (John 5:28). “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:22).

For this we have His promise: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26).

The disciples, too, had such promises and prophecies, yet on Easter morning they expected to find not Christ alive but a body—to be lovingly treated with herbs and spices in a last farewell. When they heard the first reports of his resurrection, they did not believe. Even when He stood before them, they did not believe until He drank and ate in their presence. On the road to Emmaus, He queried two of the despondent disciples: “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:25-26).

God keeps His promises. And just as Christ faithfully fulfilled His words—“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19)—so He will also fulfil these: “It is my Father’s will that all who see his Son and believe in him should have eternal life. I will raise them up at the last day” (John 6:40).


Psalm 150, with its repeated Hallelus and Hallelujahs, in Hebrew. (Image courtesy of Erik Pedersen).

What does it mean to “see” the Son of God? Many looked upon Him on Galilee’s hills and heard His words but nevertheless turned aside when those words became difficult to bear. Many of the Scribes and Pharisees came and questioned Him but were blind to His identity. To see Jesus is to recognize Him as the Christ, the only-begotten Son of God—to look upon Him as Saviour, Lord, and God. It is a vision granted through the power of the One who, as a gift, opened the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf. Only by His Holy Spirit do we see with the eyes of faith. John, pointing his finger, proclaimed: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

And yet it is that the disciples on the Emmaus road did not recognize Him until they sat at table with Him “in the breaking of the bread” (Luke 24:35)—a reminder of earlier words Christ had spoken: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever” (John 6:51). Christ’s risen body is not limited to earth or heaven but has been glorified, and He remains both man and God.

On Easter morning as you come to His table, He proclaims in the Words of Institution, “It is I” (Luke 24:39). As He gives Himself to you in His Body and Blood, you can look upon Him with the eyes of faith and respond, “My Lord and my God,” for like Thomas you too have touched the Risen Lord.

The Psalms end in a great shout of praise. Psalm 150 begins and ends with “Hallelujah,” and each verse begins with “Hallelu,” expressing perfectly the exuberant joy of Easter morning when we celebrate not only our Saviour’s resurrection but our own as well. Because He lives, we too shall live! Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!


Peggy Pedersen is a writer living in Victoria, B.C. where she is a member of Redeemer Lutheran Church.

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