Saturday, March 18, 2017

Holding on to an Alleluia

In some communities they bury the alleluia’s at the beginning of Lent or just before. I’ve never done it, but I know people who have. They’ve told about how they “fast” from celebrating during this season as a way of lamenting the injustice and pain in the world. Essentially it’s like a season of constant confession without jumping to the assurance of forgiveness and good news.  The music is droll and the prayers are full of cries for mercy.  On Easter Morning as they tell of Jesus' resurrection, they pull out the Alleluia’s and celebrate, now with a renewed exuberance. 

I’ve always been fascinated with this tradition, but somehow I forget about it until the week before Lent and then it’s too late to institute the burying of the Alleluia’s.  So it never seems to happen.  This year I was choosing hymns for our first Sunday of Lent and as I thumbed through the hymns for preparation for Communion, I came across “Come, Behold, the Feast of Heaven,” which ends each phrase with an Alleluia, with the same tune as “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.” I paused to think how these two hymns could act as book ends holding up Lent as a space in between, seeing our practice of communion as both looking towards the meal to come on Maundy Thursday as well as the meal to come in the end of this life and the beginning of the next.

I had a very different theme and sermon already prepared at that point.  It was one of those times that I felt like the sermon had already been given to me, and I felt like the message was complete in what the Spirit was calling me to say...and yet I felt this tug to say something separate that wasn’t quite completed in my soul, like an ember that was starting to burn, but hadn’t quite caught fire yet.  So, I kept thinking about the Alleluia as I prepared for worship in the coming days.  Several weeks prior I had purchased a coloring sheet from Illustrated Children’s Ministry which had the word Alleluia and a beautiful butterfly.  They encouraged providing two versions of the coloring sheet to your congregants, one with pictures in the wings and another with blank spaces for those who felt called to draw their own images of alleluia.  You could color it and then bury them until Easter or you could just color them on Easter.  So, here I stood.  I had the hymn, I had the physical Alleluias, I had the time to prepare and put directions and an explanation in the bulletin which we print in a crazy amount of time in advance.  And yet, there was something holding me back.  Something within me felt like I could not bury the Alleluia.

Instead, I felt this incredible yearning inside to pick it up.  I wanted to pick up the image of the Alleluia and hold onto it for dear life. So, that’s what I did. 

If you’ve been following this blog, you know that I had a tragic loss in my life and traumatic physical complications about a month prior to Ash Wednesday.  I could tell you the story of my loss and my medical condition again, the story of my endurance and recovery process, but that’s another story unto itself. For now, I want to begin sharing with you about this current journey of picking up the Alleluia. I did not end up changing the sermon or introducing this idea with my congregation that Sunday, I had to start working through it first.  I’m starting to write about this process now, and I wanted to share it with you.  

As I invited my congregation to prepare for communion that Sunday, I did invite them to choose to pick up the Alleluia, “if like me, you need a little help singing today.”  I just let the idea hang in the air, and that afternoon, I started to paint.  I had been dreaming about filling a journal with alleluias as I tried to visualize what it might look like to “hold onto an Alleluia."  So, I ordered some carbon paper to trace the butterflies from Illustrated Children’s Ministry into my journal.  I figured even if I couldn’t think of what to put in the blank spaces, I could at least trace and paint the images already provided and hope to go from there.  

If you find yourself in a place where it’s hard to be joyful and even harder to sing for joy, I invite you to start dreaming of what it might look like to celebrate the goodness in our world, and then, if you can fathom it, begin to dream about what it might look like to celebrate the goodness in this moment, inside you, in the place of emptiness in your life.  Ok, maybe that’s too far too soon, but we’ll get there.  Even if you can’t fathom it, maybe you can dream it, and if the dreams only look like tears right now, you can start here with me.  May the Spirit which imagines Life for all things speak to your heart. Amen.

In case you can't read the scriptures around this first Alleluia, here they are:
Hebrews 12: 12
So take a new grip with your tired hands and your weak knees.
Hebrews 12: 1b, 2b
Let us run with endurance the race God has set before us...Because of the Joy awaiting him, Jesus endured the cross, disregarding its shame.

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