Grace and Peace to you.
Among the untranslated words of our liturgy, Alleluia is dear. A word of love, a word of praise and joy, a word of gratitude for grace, a it can make a whole song all by itself. It’s a sweet, rich word. Of course, like all our words — like anything sweet and rich — it can be overused.
Sometimes, like junk food, our alleluias come and go too easily. We can sing alleluia out of desperation to feel good. We can sing alleluia in denial of the depth of the grace we’ve been given, and its cost. We can sing alleluia in denial of our deep sorrows, in denial of our suffering and the suffering we cause, of our sin, our terrors, our broken hearts and our guilt. Sometimes our alleluias are too easy, too self-satisfied, too self-centered. Not always. But, like sweet, rich food, they can be overused.
It’s not always time to party. Sometimes what we need to say is not alleluia, “praise the Lord,” but eleison, “have mercy.” Sometimes our alleluias fall silent in the face of injustice: the oppressed are not yet free, and it is not yet time to exult. Sometimes we need to fast from our glib happiness and tend to the sorrows of our hearts and of the world. We can’t have our alleluias on demand; sometimes we have to wait. We need to listen in silence to the cry of the cross, so that the Alleluia of resurrection means something.
So in Lent, as we fast from rich, sweet foods, we fast from our rich, sweet Alleluia. On Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras, in French) an old tradition is to use up all the fat — the milk, eggs and butter in the house (usually in pancakes). And we use up all the alleluias. A liturgical tradition for this day includes burying the alleluias, carrying a small casket out of the church and interring it, as we would for someone we love. It’s a tender moment.
Use up your alleluias today. Relish the word. Walk around singing it, saying it, praying it. Rejoice in being “shriven” — having confessed and been absolved (hence another name for today, “Shrove Tuesday”) — before you enter into a season when your freedom is still being worked out. Then tonight, bury your Alleluias. Kiss them goodbye. Wish them well. They will go down into the darkness, into the silence, to be drowned out by the moans and the cries. Let them go. They have infinite life in them. They will arise again on Easter, having seen Hell and transfigured it, and returned, singing.
But today do not worry yourself about the dark journey to come. This is the day the Lord is creating. Let us rejoice and be glad. Alleluia!
Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes