Tag Archive: Praise


This was the homily I preached this morning based on Psalm 118:14-29 and Benjamin Britten’s cantata “Rejoice in the Lamb.”

There are images circulating around the internet right now that I’ve seen seminary pals posting on Facebook that say, “what do you mean Easter is over?!  Easter lasts 50 days!”  But it’s easy to forget after all the glorious celebration of Easter Sunday that we get to continue the party.  And part of this means being able to rock out the “hallelujahs” again!

The Lenten ban on “hallelujahs” or “alleluias” is something that I really try to uphold, but it gets hard because I love music.  Even with pop music, I’ll be singing along in the car, feeling the music, bopping along, and then I realize that I’ve let the forbidden word slip.  Oops.  One of these songs is Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” which has been covered by everyone and their brother.  You’d think that with a title like “Hallelujah” I’d be able to see it coming and restrain myself, but it’s still really hard because it’s a great song!  It is, however, a melancholy kind of song – the kind of song that makes me well up and want to let out all the emotion in my soul.

Music can do that to you.  It can carry you away so that you say “hallelujah” even in the middle of Lent or it can move you to tears.  And speaking of great music, we’re going to hear some fantastic music in just a few minutes.  In reading over the text of Benjamin Britten’s piece, which is printed in the bulletin and was written by Christopher Smart, I was at first a wee bit baffled by the lyrics.  But as Gerry and I discussed the piece, I became really moved by what it was saying.  One part of it that really caught me were these lines:

“Hallelujah, hallelujah,
Hallelujah from the heart of God,
And from the hand of the artist inimitable,
And from the echo of the heavenly harp
In sweetness magnifical and mighty.
Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah.”

First of all, Christopher Smart’s poetry is mysterious and beautiful.  Second, I was hooked by this idea of a “hallelujah from the heart of God.”  What does that mean?

Hallelujah is a Hebrew word.  Well, actually, if we want to get technical, it’s two words – “Hallelu” and “jah.”  And this phrase is a command that means “you all praise God!”  So when we shout “hallelujah,” we’re really saying “ya’ll praise God now!”  It’s an exclamation – something that is not just for us, but that is meant to draw others in.  “You all praise God” so that we can join our voices together in praising and worshiping God, just like a choir.

But what would “hallelujah from the heart of God” mean?  I think it means something incredibly profound.  I think it means our praise of God doesn’t start with us.  It starts with God.   This may sound like a really foreign concept for us, but it shows up in the psalms as well.  “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.  By the LORD has this been done; it is marvelous in our eyes.  This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. … You are my God, and I will thank you; you are my God, and I will exalt you, Give thanks to the LORD, for the LORD is good; God’s mercy endures forever.”

Psalm 118 is part of the praise psalms whose primary purpose is to praise and glorify God.  And the writers and singers of these psalms praise because God is who God is.  They give thanks and exalt the Lord because of who they know God to be and because of what God has done.  They give praise and bear witness to how God has been active in their lives in order to point to God and to share the goodness of God.   They shout “hallelujah” and command “praise God,” inviting others to join the song of praise.  They invite them to be a part of the chorus of hallelujahs by sharing with others what God has done for them.

We even see this in the Gospel of John: “now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.  But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”  All that we hear in this Gospel is written down so that we may come to believe in and worship Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God.  All these amazing things about Jesus’ life, miracles or signs, death and resurrection have been written down in order to invite us to believe.  All these things that have come from the loving heart of God and have been graciously and generously given to us – these things invite a hallelujah.  What we’ve experienced as the goodness and mercy from God’s own heart should evoke a hallelujah – our praise of God.

In all of this, the question is this: do we give praise and shout hallelujah in order that we, as well as others, might believe?

When I am struggling with unbelief, or doubt, or missing out on that encounter with God, I recall what God has done in my life and in the lives of those I know.  I listen to the stories of others who are praising and bearing witness to God’s action in their lives.  This hearing and remembering what God has done helps to spark gratitude and praise in my life.  It helps me to continue believing – and as we hear in the Gospel of John, it’s through this believing that we have life to the full in the name of Christ.

On Wednesday, I watched a TEDxChange event that was put on by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  TEDTalks are devoted to “ideas worth spreading” – sharing ideas in order to make a difference in the world.  At Wednesday’s event, several speakers and poets took the stage, but the topic all were focusing upon was “positive disruption.”  The speakers spoke about ways of positively disrupting the world in order to make a difference – whether through better health care for women, contraceptives, or famine relief.

But I love that phrase “positive disruption.”  I think that’s what “hallelujah” is in our lives.  It’s a shout.  It’s a word you want to blurt out.  It’s a positive disruption or interruption in our lives in that it shakes up our doubts, sorrows, and difficulties and fills us again with gratitude, praise and joy.  It’s the word that bursts the tomb and offers us Christ, standing before us saying “peace be with you.”  It’s the word that causes us to think about what God has done.  It’s the word uttered from another’s lips that causes us to remember God’s goodness even when we feel far from God.  It’s the word that energizes us and helps us remember that we are invited to live our lives as responses to God’s love.

Today, may we let our hallelujahs burst forth in our words, prayers and songs.  May we let the Spirit stir up in us those hallelujahs that were born in the heart of God.  May we, with our hallelujahs, invite others to praise God.  And may we continue the celebration of Easter all our days.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

© 2013. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

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One Language

So all has been going super awesome here, but things have been quite busy and, once again, I’m later than I’d like to be on my blogging.  But tonight, something caught my attention and I had to write about it to think about and to chew on it some more.  I’ve been thinking a lot about Holy Communion for the past couple months.  Before I left, we heard the Gospel of John’s readings on bread, so I think that got me thinking.  And I preached a couple of those weeks, so that also made me really ponder these texts about Jesus, bread, wine, and Communion.

But I’ve continued thinking about Communion since I’ve been here.  During the past (almost!) two months, I have been absolutely blessed to participate in many different types of services.  Thus far, I’ve been to:

  • two Lutheran services
  • two Catholic services (one more of an open meditation/prayer evening with music)
  • morning and evening devotions here at the Collegium Oecumenicum
  • a joint Thanksgiving service (Germans celebrate this holiday on the first Sunday of October – this year, on the 7th) between the Collegium and the Heilpädagogisches Centrum Augustinum (HPCA) with whom we share space (similar to a L’Arche community)
  • one ecumenical semester opening service at the Collegium
  • two ecumenical services in the style of the Chicago Folk Service at the Collegium

These have been truly rich experiences because they have given me a chance to see different styles and forms of worship, something that is harder to do when one is serving at one place.  However, I have missed Holy Communion.

In Germany, Communion is not practiced as regularly as it is in Lutheran churches back home.  Here, it often seems to take place once a month or so, and when you’re used to receiving Communion once a week or more (between seminary, internship, home visits, etc.), you notice not having it.  And at Catholic services, I do not receive Communion since it goes against their teachings about receiving the sacrament.  The Communion services here at the Collegium, done in the Chicago Folk Service style, have been the only two times I have received that little bit of bread and that sip of wine that have become so important to me.

Even this morning, I was already looking forward to tonight’s service because I knew we would not only sing, pray, and hear God’s word, but that we would also celebrate the Eucharist.  And then, during the service, the most beautiful thing happened.  The Words of Institution had been said (“In the night in which he was betrayed…”) and we formed a half-circle in the tiny chapel.  Then, the pastor gave the bread to the organist and each person passed it on.  I was so excited because at Christ Lutheran Church in Washington, DC those who help lead worship stand in a circle and give each other bread and wine every Sunday.  It’s such a wonderful reminder to me of how we give and receive, of how we need each other, and how we are to live in the body of Christ with one another.

So the pastor gave the wafer to the organist and spoke, naturally, in German: “Nimm hin und iss. Christi Leib, für dich gegeben” (“Take and eat.  Body of Christ, given for you.”).  Well, to a non-native German speaker, to speak these foreign words to others could have been a daunting task.  I know sometimes people get nervous speaking these words in English because they’re such important words.  They are words of promise.  They are words of God’s action in our lives.  And no one wants to mess up speaking God’s promises or acts to another person!

But here’s where the beauty occurred.  The bread reached a man from Brazil and instead of speaking these words in German, he closed his eyes and spoke them in Portuguese.  He spoke these words in the language that was close to his heart and said them the best way he knew how – authentically in his mother tongue.  As we went around the circle, others spoke in English and it was interesting to hear all of the slight variations of these words.  But even with the variations, you could tell that the words people chose and used were the words that meant something to them.  The same happened with the chalice: “Nimm hin und trink. Christi Blut, für dich vergossen.” “Take and drink.  Blood of Christ, poured out/shed for you.”  It was wonderful to hear these words that mean so much to me in different languages and voices.  The variety brought such a richness to the experience and made me think about the feast to come.  It made me think about that feast, that colorful heavenly banquet, where people will be gathered from every corner of the world, from all different backgrounds and times, all speaking one language: praise.

When we finished with Communion, we sang a song that brought the whole experience together for me: “Strahle brechen viele [aus einem Licht]” (“Rays break many [out of one light]”).  The last verse seemed particularly apt:

Glieder sind es viele, doch nur ein Leib.
Wir sind Glieder Christi.
Glieder sind es viele, doch nur ein Leib
und wir sind eins durch ihn.  (Lyrics found here)

In English: “Members, there are many, but only one body.  We are members of Christ.  Members, there are many, but only one body, and we are one though him.”  And the cool, and really nerdy, thing is that in German, the word for body (Leib) and the word for a loaf of bread (Laib) sound exactly the same when spoken aloud.  Body and bread, together in one sound.  People joined together through bread in the body of Christ through the one language of praise.

© 2012. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

“Abendmahl” by/von Brunhild Klein-Hennig

The Beat

I would love to write a song for You,
a hymn of praise and
a shout of joy.

But I cannot seem to find the right words
to express to You exactly
how I’m feeling.

So search my heart, O Lord, and
listen to its steady beat –
thump, thump, thump.

It’s a familiar tune You composed long ago,
but it’s what keeps me
alive in Your grace.

And when it’s overflowing with thanks,
joy, love, and beating for You,
You’ll know exactly…

…what I’m trying to say.

© 2012. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

“Hosanna in the highest!” Even thought I’m not a Jesus Christ Superstar fan, I can’t help hearing this song in my head whenever the word “hosanna” comes up:

What is always fascinating to me about this song, and this Sunday (Sunday of the Passion/Palm Sunday), is that we quickly go from praising Christ to reading the passion story, putting ourselves in the place of the crowd. Let me explain that a bit. The song is happy and upbeat, but it has almost a menacing undertone which grows in intensity over the course of the song. Likewise, we begin waving palm branches and shouting “hosanna” to welcome Jesus to Jerusalem, but how quickly our cries turn during the liturgy to shouts of “crucify him!” I find this puzzling and powerful, sobering and also dramatic.

We hear the story of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion and I’m always amazed at how quickly the tide turns – from joy and acclamation to angry mobs and the death of the one we call Savior. Likewise, Psalm 130 (and so many of the psalms) oscillate between lament and hope, sorrow and joy:

1 Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
2 Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my supplications!
3 If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
Lord, who could stand?
4 But there is forgiveness with you,
so that you may be revered.
5 I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
6 my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.
7 O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is great power to redeem.
8 It is he who will redeem Israel
from all its iniquities.

This psalm is both a plea for help and forgiveness as well as a song of praise for and trust in what God can do. It flows between knowing what God could do (mark iniquities) to declaring what God does do (forgive). God’s forgiveness, mercy and redeeming love take over rather than judgment. Rather than getting what we deserve for the sins we’ve committed, no matter how large or small, we receive the gift of grace. It’s because of this that we can “revere” God. Some translations even have “fear” instead of “revere,” indicating a deep awe for God and who God is.

I’m still processing this psalm as well as Palm Sunday, but I’m happy that they’re causing me to think and that they can’t be figured out in a few days! We’re now entering Holy Week and in order to be ready for Easter, I am going to try memorizing Psalm 145, which is rather long. We’ll see how I do!

Father, grant us insight and clarity this Holy Week as we meditate on the life, death and resurrection of your precious son, Jesus. We give you thanks for his coming into the world and his dying and rising for our sake. May we take the time to listen to you and what you would teach us during this week. Draw us closer to you and fill us with your Holy Spirit that we might be renewed and strengthened for service to you and to our neighbors. In the name of Christ Jesus, AMEN.

© 2011. Annabelle Peake. All rights reserved.

Fifth Sunday in Lent

So far on my Lenten journey, I’ve managed to memorize Psalms 51, 121, and 42, and I’ve read Psalm 46. This past week I worked through Psalm 42, which has been a great exercise for me.

First of all, as I mentioned last week, I love the image of thirsting after God. This longing to spend more time with God has been really present this busy and hectic semester. I’ve truly appreciated the opportunity to sit quietly in contemplative prayer. There, quietly gathered together to focus on God, I’ve been blessed to listen to God and also to have some deeply meaningful reflections with members of the seminary community.

Second, in reflecting on life and situations I’ve been a part of or even witnessed (Haiti and Japan, for example), I have seen suffering. Unfortunately, it is all too often a part of life. Thinking about these times, I’ve come to appreciate this psalm’s questions and honest frustration: “I say to God, my rock, ‘Why have you forgotten me? Why must I walk about mournfully because the enemy oppresses me?’” The psalmist is freely about to express himself, but he also maintains his faith in God – the God who is the God of his life, his rock, and his help.

In spite of frustrations, pain and suffering, the psalmist is still able to praise God because he remembers God’s goodness and faithfulness. Now this is raw and unapologetic wrestling with the difficult questions of life – naming the problem, the hurt and the pain and asking God point-blank, “where are you?” I think we often feel like we cannot wrestle with God like this – that we cannot ask questions of God or call God to task, but the psalms invite us to pray deeply and honestly, voicing our concerns and airing our frustrations so we can once again praise God. I think we would be wise to learn from these ancient prayers.

In response to this psalm, I would like to tackle Psalm 145, but I am hesitant to do so since it is so full of praise. I think I should like to dwell a bit longer in the penitential and contemplative mood of Lent before springing into Easter joy – at least as far as my psalm choices are concerned! So, instead, I will work on 130, which has long been a favorite:

Psalm 130:
1 Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD.
2 Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!
3 If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?
4 But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.
5 I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;
6 my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.
7 O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem.
8 It is he who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities.

It’s also quite appropriate since I’ve been thinking a lot about being made righteous through the cross of Christ and God’s grace – not through my own actions. Stay tuned to see what I learn from Psalm 130! Peace!

© 2011. Annabelle Peake. All rights reserved.

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