Putting Away the Alleluias

Sunday 3-March 2019 >>>

Alleluia is a special word used to jubilantly proclaim Jesus is risen! A lot will happen between now and dawn on Easter morning though, because Lent is upon us!

My time in the Black Country has deepened my sense of self as a parish priest. I have no hesitation in saying that flourishing for me means being the pastor of missional congregations active at the heart of their local communities.

Communities live in stories and come to life in conversations. Change is not only an inevitable part of community life but when embraced with courage and creativity, it brings new freedoms, new opportunities and new relationships. A new vicar is not so much the one who will bring new flags to wave, but rather one who will discover the banners that are there ready to be unfurled.

For me though, four priorities remain front and centre. I want to be part of a church community known for

  • its kindness
  • its joyfulness
  • its prayerfulness and
  • its playfulness.

Some things might change that you desperately want to stay the same,
some things might stay the same that you desperately want to change!

Yes, a lot will happen between now and dawn on Easter morning. Lent is upon us! Lent is the decision of love that we make each year to share the road towards Jerusalem with the Lord Jesus. The drama of palm leaves, fragrant nard, silver coins, broken bread and wine outpoured regathers our attention. The Via Dolorosa is ready to be laid anew. Golgotha stands ready once again. The garden tomb is waiting afresh to be filled. Some call Lent The Bright Sadness. The promise of Easter endures but in Lent we let it lie veiled in penitential purple.

And so although Lent is a journey, it is also an interruption, damming for a while, the flow of resurrection hope that defines our gospel story. Lent is the decision of surrender that we make each year to live the disciplines of confession and penitence

If our road truly takes us to Jerusalem, treasure lies in every single step of self-restraint along the road to Jerusalem. Once the journey to Jerusalem is complete, Jesus will finally be led outside the city walls, to a cross of wood where he will bridge the distance that separates a broken, lost, hurting humanity from God, who is altogether good, loving and just.

Lent invites us once again to enter into this radical form of reconciliation, preparing ourselves to be full partners in the scandalous exchange ahead:

“We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
For our sake, he made him to be sin who knew no sin so that in him,
we might become the righteousness of God.”

When Jesus came down from the mount of Transfiguration, he began to tell his disciples that he would be betrayed and crucified.

Jesus did not enter into glory before he stretched out his arms on the hardwood of the cross.

Jesus told his disciples, “If you want to become my followers, deny yourselves and take up your cross and follow me.”

For the days of Lent, we discontinue singing and saying, “Alleluia.”

At Easter we will again celebrate the Resurrection
and sing “Christ is risen.”

Bishop William Duranti (1296) voiced in his commentaries on the Divine Office: “We part from the Alleluia as from a beloved friend, whom we embrace many times and kiss on the mouth, head and hand, before we leave him.

Does alleluia have any part in your story?

  • If alleluia is an attitude not a matter of style, are you a person of praise?
  • If alleluia is a way of being not just a word, are we a church of praise?

The practice of putting away the Alleluia invites us to hold back from using this word during Lent so we can save it for the special celebration on Easter.  The intention is to let the word rest so that when it reappears on Easter we might hear it anew and experience the joy of Christ’s resurrection in renewed and meaningful ways.

Putting away the Alleluia is not about abstaining from praising and expressing our love and devotion to God. All kinds of traditions have customs that if celebrated every day would no longer be special. Saving the singing of “Happy Birthday” for birthdays and decorating a Christmas tree for Christmas helps us to know those are special times of celebration.

The same can be true for burying the Alleluia. And yes, in some traditions I do mean burying! Bishop William Duranti again. Choirboys in charge with a mock funeral. In Paris, a straw figure in golden letters the inscription “Alleluia” was carried out of the choir at the end of the service and burned in the church yard.

We desist from saying Alleluia, the song chanted by angels, because we have been excluded from the company of the angels on account of Adam’s sin. In the Babylon of our earthly life we sit by the streams, weeping as we remember Sion. For as the children of Israel in an alien land hung their harps upon the willows, so we too must forget the Alleluia song in the season of sadness, of penance, and bitterness of heart. Gradually to prepare the minds of the faithful for the serious time of penance and sorrow; to remind the sinner of the grievousness of his errors, and to exhort him to penance.

We do not fast from praise – and if we do, even the rocks and stones themselves would start to sing!

Let us pray:

In you, gracious God, the widowed find a carer, the orphaned find a parent, the fearful find a friend. In you, the wounded find a healer, the penitent find a pardoner, the burdened find a counsellor. In you, the miserly find a beggar, the despondent find a laughter-maker, the legalists find a rule breaker, the prisoners find freedom. In you, Jesus Christ, we meet our Maker, and our match and if some need to say ‘help me’ and if some need to say ‘save me’ and if some need to say ‘hold me’ and if some need to say ‘forgive me’ then let these be said now, in confidence, by us.

O Christ in whose heart is both welcome and warning, in these days of Lent: say to us, do to us, reveal within us the things that will make us whole. And we will wait; and we will praise you. Amen.

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