The “great triumph of God over death” conveyed in music is the focus of Religion and Ethics Newsweekly’s Easter feature, with commentary by Canon Victoria Sirota of Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York, author of Preaching to the Choir: Claiming the Role of Sacred Musician.. The piece features excerpts from raditional hymns, African-American spirituals, and contemporary praise music, and context to help people understand the motifs of the music and how they tie into the Holy Week experience.
LAWTON: Many of the crucifixion songs focus on the blood of Christ, which Christians believe atoned for the sins of the world.
Canon SIROTA: The truth of the reality that we are dealing with life and death issues; the idea of blood, which is so horrifying. And when you bleed you are terrified that you are going to die. But to use that as a symbol then of new life, it reminds us that the story doesn’t end there, that we end in resurrection.
LAWTON: And so comes the great transition to Easter Sunday, from mourning to resurrection.
Canon SIROTA: We hear the joy, we hear the triumph. We sing fast music. We sing it joyously. It’s in a major key and it helps us to feel that this is “the day the Lord has made.”
LAWTON: Many Easter songs incorporate the words, “Alleluia” or “Hallelujah.”
CHOIR #2 (singing): Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia.
Canon SIROTA: Alleluia is the Latin form of “praise to God.” Hallelujah is the Hebrew form of “praise to God.” So they’re both ecstatic. And I think the sound of it is why we haven’t translated them. Hallelujah — just that sense of almost moving into the non-verbal. Not a translation of praise to God, but “Hallelujah” — that sheer joy, sheer ecstasy. Not only do we use them especially at Easter, but we don’t say them in the Christian Church during Lent. We bury the Alleluias and return them on Easter Sunday.
Transcript and video here.