– Leonard Cohen
I am fascinated by the broken Hallelujah. I’m fascinated by a lot of what Leonard Cohen has written, but especially the broken Hallelujah.
I’m not certain what Mr. Cohen meant when he wrote these lyrics. He is a gifted and enigmatic writer who I’m not sure always knows what he writes. Like any great artist, he’s reaching for something and he doesn’t always know what. This is when the most profound and prophetic things get written; when someone’s reach goes beyond their grasp.
The holy Hallelujah makes sense. Most Hallelujahs have always tried to be holy. It’s our best praise — the Hallelujah Chorus being the pinnacle. Hallelujah has found its way into a good deal of writing and hymnody, but as far as I know, it’s almost always attempting to be holy. That’s why a broken Hallelujah stands out. And it stands out as being right; perhaps even more right than the holy one, at least for now.
Jesus sang a broken Hallelujah from the cross: “He was wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5). “My God, why have you forsaken me (Mark 15:34)?” would have been His broken Hallelujah.
For there, those who carried us away captive asked of us a song,
And those who plundered us requested mirth,
Saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How shall we sing the Lord’s song
In a foreign land? (Psalm 137:3-4)
This speaks of the children of Israel in captivity, but it speaks for us all here on earth because here we are singing a strange song in a strange land. We do not belong here. We are just passing through. Our Hallelujahs are all broken — all glorious. They are gloriously splintered — fragmented pieces of shard held together by love. Our broken Hallelujahs show forth the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ that is holding us together from inside, and bringing Him glory with every singing of our song — not the glory of perfection, but the glory of brokenness.
I would assume that virtually all our Hallelujahs here on earth are broken to a certain extent, because we are imperfect people with imperfect praise. But God receives it. He welcomes it, because our broken Hallelujahs speak of His grace. They remind Him of His mercy and His love which has made our broken Hallelujahs possible.
And He knows that we will soon be singing perfect Hallelujahs in eternity. Holy Hallelujahs — no longer broken, but maybe … just maybe … with a strain of brokenness still there, just so we remember forever what He went through to save us.
To all our wonderful Canadian friends, thank you for sharing Leonard Cohen with us, along with or other favorite Canadian, Bruce Cockburn — both familiar with broken Hallelujahs. Click on Leonard’s picture for a wonderful live performance of “Hallelujah” in London, England.