Damn. I meant to start this blog with something clever and incisive. Something fun. Something smart.
Instead, the pressing question of the day is visceral. Why do I weep when that darned Alleluia banner is carried out of church at the end of Transfiguration Sunday worship?
It’s that hymn. “Alleluia, Song of Gladness” (WOV 654), which I just noticed is an oldie, one of those old Latin texts rendered into English by John M. Neale in the nineteenth century. I’ve always thought it’s a bit hokey—or at least the whole literal putting-away-of-the-alleluia thing is a bit hokey. At my church, there's a big yellow, white and gold lame banner that says “ALLELUIA.” It has been sitting in the chancel through all the Epiphany season, but on the last Sunday in Epiphany--today--it is carried out with the recessional, because Lent starts on Wednesday and there are no alleluias in Lent. (Today it went out horizontal—a new wrinkle, colors face down, carried like a coffin on the shoulders of Irish pallbearers. Gulp.) Children follow with strips of colored paper that say alleluia, and these are then "buried" in a treasure chest until Easter.
This morning, even before the end of the first hymn stanza, I stop singing because I’m crying. And somehow I don’t think they are the tears of the hymn text (“for the solemn time is coming when our tears for sin shall flow”). That line ends the third verse, and I am a goner long before that. There's that contrast between “true Jerusalem and free” where the heavenly host reside and the rest of us-- “by Babylon’s sad waters/mourning exiles now are we.”
Sometimes I feel shamed that I must be reminded that Lent is here and I must behave accordingly, lament my sins for an hour-and-a-half on Ash Wednesday night and repress any hint that hey, I know this sin problem is only temporary, ‘cause Easter is coming. The Lent of my childhood was midweek services—all those verses of all those hymns full of blood and sacrifice and misery. Sitting there in school clothes and winter jackets, reveling in the drama of it all. More in the moment with all the guilt and sadness as a nine-year-old than I can stand to be as an adult. (Life compensates and provides its own grim dramas.)
I ramble, but that’s the point of a blog. I don’t have to go back and reread and polish and worry too much about presenting the right face. Just write.
So the alleluia is banished for Lent. But this morning, while mopping up the tears, I found myself thinking “Any exceptions?” (The hymn is asking for them: “alleluia . . . voice of joy that cannot die.”) I thought of one—my father’s funeral on March 12, 1984—squarely in the middle of Lent. We sang “This is the feast of victory for our God. Alleluia.” We sang it without liturgical angst. We sang it because it was composed by Daddy’s great friend Richard Hillert. Because it was one of those pieces of church music that just tickled him, that he played with enthusiasm at the organ. And because it was a funeral—Christ goes before into death, and we follow and his resurrection victory is ours. So sing.
How could we go through Lent if we didn’t know that we can still get that alleluia out when we need it?
Didn’t mean to get so serious. Let’s just have a big noisy alleluia cheer right here. Sis-boom-bah, al-le-lu-yah. Lent is coming—a good reason to lighten up.