St Andrew's X: The ultimate factor of life

St Andrew's X

Sitting in the coffee shop this morning while catching up with a friend who’s been out of town, the lilting chorus of “Hallelujah!” began raining from the ceiling-mounted speakers, spilling into my consciousness, and interrupting our conversation, as the word shone through the high-decibel din of the noisy university crowd.  I hadn’t heard a single other thing played on the radio the whole time my friend and I sat there with our cappuccino and hot chocolate.  But that word snapped me to attention.  I stopped and said, “Listen!”  How does this softly sung word have such power to dominate the din?

Of course one answer is, “It’s the X-Factor”.  This national icon of British TV staged Leonard Cohen’s song as the grand finale, and it’s become the instant mega-hit of Christmas. It was about the fifth time I’ve heard that song in public over the past two days.  But of course there’s more to it than that.  Cohen himself answers, “It’s got a good chorus.”[1]  But of course there’s more to it than that, too. 

How is it that this nation which in the main treats biblical faith as a bygone, having tossed it aside like a child’s outgrown clothing, enjoys the chorus of Hallelujah’s so much?  My friend pointed out that it’s considered a “secular” song.  Well, he has a point there.  The version sung on X-Factor left out some of the more religious biblical verses.  But it also included some.  And the chorus of course, meaning “Praise God!” is the only part that most people know by heart.  Have they read Cohen’s lyrics?  It’s about King David and other biblical heroes, and although there are well over 100 different recorded versions in play, Cohen himself has closed it with this verse:

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

That’s nothing less than amazing Grace: redemption and praise to the Lord, in spite of our failures in life.

And so, I know there is something more to it.  Something more than X-Factor hustling, something more than air time, something more than secularization can achieve.  That one-word chorus, sung over and over again, is something more.  It’s a word that sums up a whole life’s hope.  It’s word that can sum up the human hunger for hope in a world of hurt.  A word that finds beauty in life starved for worship.  A word that reminds us that every human being was created to praise God.  No matter which version of the song’s verses is sung, “Hallelujah” sums it all up.  Like Cohen says, “It’s got a good chorus.” 


[1] Neil McCormick, “Hallelujah: the Perfect Christmas song”, Telegraph, 17 December 2008.–the-perfect-Christmas-song.html


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