A worship concept that’s helped me during difficult times is called “the ongoing alleluia.” The idea is both simple and profound: When worshippers gather together, their alleluias are part of something that spans the world endlessly, that involves them and like the wind of the Spirit, passes through on its way to others, present in all time and space.
Many of these alleluias are offered in situations of great turmoil and danger. So worshippers have strong reasons for laments and cries for deliverance. In spite of dire circumstances, though, followers of Christ still insist on praising God. Alleluias unite God’s people around the world, both in our struggles and in our prayers for rescue.
This coming Sunday, the ongoing—and omnipresent—alleluias might look and sound something like this….
An alleluia might rise in the quiet moments of a Siberian dawn, in a prison camp where worship might take place only in the mind of a single political prisoner.
That solitary thought remains strong in former Soviet republics ruled by cruel despots who claim Christianity. Small groups of worshipers in Orthodox communities intone chants that mix praise with pleas.
In Beirut, those sounds and songs echo in the ancient liturgy of a Maronite Christian church, whose members’ lives are upended by overwhelming corruption and societal collapse.
Katarina kyrka, Stockholm’s medieval Christian church, reverberates with this universal word of praise, now tinged with hope for Syrian refugees who struggle to assimilate into their new home.
Remembering the scars of COVID 19, Hispanic worshippers in a storefront church in New York’s Washington Heights neigbhorhood linger over their alleluias, repeating over and over again this cherished mantra of praise.
Near a region where drug overdose deaths have decimated the fabric of families and social safety nets, the Prayer and Encouragement Committee of Messiah Lutheran Church in Urbana, OH, keeps breathing alleluias into its surrounding locales.
Words of praise fill the worship at St. Sabrina’s, a Black Catholic church in Chicago that commissions its members to actions on behalf of those facing poverty and violence. The sound swells as the choir lifts the alleluias into the souls of the throng of worshippers.
In the Rocky Mountain village of Pagosa Springs, a town adjacent to dying and burned-out forests, the lively worship of Centerpoint Church’s alleluias signals the power of God to restore the natural world.
Deep within California’s Central Valley—where extreme drought portends dire consequences—the alleluias of St. Andrew’s Lutheran congregation in Stockton remind worshippers that their wellbeing remains in God’s hands.
In San Francisco’s Mission District, members of 245-year-old Mission Dolores Parish, a Roman Catholic congregation, take service-worship into lives cut off from the routines of comfort and the necessities of life. Their alleluias find a home among those who are homeless.
Alleluia songs flow at Puna Baptist Church on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, near the site of the 2018 volcanic eruptions that threatened entire neighborhoods with destruction. The alleluias morph into alohas, as worshippers once again greet each other with love and care.
In Tokyo, where the COVID pandemic still threatens, and where earthquakes are eternally on the time horizon, the worshippers at Tokyo Lutheran Church speak and sing in several languages, “Alleluia” joining them together as one.
What might be the takeaway from these widespread and ongoing experiences? This Sunday, in spite of difficult circumstances, the praise of God will nevertheless reverberate throughout time and space, drawing all of us toward alleluias that will grace our coming week. Our privilege and responsibility? To receive and share this gift of the Spirit.
In this way, the praise of God never stops, and despair never gains the upper hand.