A few Sundays ago, I woke up before my alarm and in that half-asleep-half-awake state I had to decide whether to go back to sleep or get up and get in the ocean. By some minor miracle I hauled myself out of bed and went for a swim…and as I did, so a family of dolphins went right past me, so close I could almost touch them, and I was reminded of this morning’s gospel passage…
Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory
Since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory.
Since I had been awake, I saw the glory of those dolphins.
And I committed that moment to memory, thinking ‘that’ll preach’. And, oh how I intended to use that as a springboard into the importance of keeping alert to see God’s glory. And then the events of this week happened, and it turns out that the glory that we hear about in our readings today isn’t how life is right now.
Life isn’t always shiny bright faces and booming affirmations from the almighty.
Life isn’t always feeling the Divine One so close we can reach out and touch them.
Life isn’t always mountain top experiences and dolphins at dawn. Most often we just trudge on, one foot in front of the other, trying our best to follow Jesus – two steps forward, one step back.
Today’s readings are all dazzling and full of glory but, for most of us, life is probably rarely like that. For our brothers in detention, and our sisters and brothers in the Ukraine it couldn’t be further from that. And what can we say, today, when our readings say one thing and our news says something hideously different… Sometimes there just aren’t the words for how terrifying, how horrendous, how utterly devastating life gets.
Standing with Jesus, on top of a mountain, is one thing. But what can we do, how do we stand, what do we say to our fellow siblings, when we and they are far from that mountain top. Far from that light. Far from anything resembling beauty.
You know, some of the ancient churches in the Ukraine have opened their crypts – their deep, rock hewn, dark crypts, where long-dead saints have been resting for generations and generations – they have opened these places for the dead with an invite for residents to find their way there, for safety. These ancient graves are being used to preserve life. Maybe that says more about glory, more about hope, more about the role of the church and the goodness of humanity. The image of finding refuge – preserving life – in this place of death is so deep, huge, and I don’t have the words for it, but somehow perhaps it shines with the radiance of God. And maybe words just get in the way, anyway. Sometimes, often, I think we need fewer words.
Which brings me to this…
Today is the Sunday before Lent – Lent begins this coming Wednesday and we recall our own humanity, in sorrowfulness and repentance, as we are marked with the sign of the cross in Ash.
Two years ago, before any of us knew a pandemic was around the corner, I read about an ancient practice that takes place on this day, in churches worldwide, called burying or locking the Alleluia. It dates way back to before the 10th Century and begins to explain why we stop singing and saying Alleluia, in church, during Lent.
Burying the alleluia, which we will physically do at the end of the service today, is a kind of gimmick, but with beautiful imagery and deep reason. The word is buried, locked away, until the Easter Vigil, when it is ‘released from captivity’, like Christ in the resurrection. That, in itself, is enough, but there’s another aspect that resonates with me today, at this time, when the world seems even more intent on destroying itself and her children.
By burying the Alleluia, as a physical reminder that we will stop proclaiming this word of deep praise for this while, this is an act of solidarity with those who currently can’t proclaim Alleluia, those who have lost or let go of their Alleluia, because life or death or external or internal factors are preventing them from being able to; those for whom Alleluia is the furthest word from their lips because of invasion and war, or their own captivity, or mental ill health, or addiction, or homelessness or hunger, or bereavement or loneliness. These are our friends, our brothers and sisters, our family members, ourselves. And by acknowledging that praise is sometimes impossible, or paralysing is a simple but powerful prayer for those who are suffering. Sometimes not speaking is at least as powerful as prayer, maybe more so.
And, in our worship, during Lent, we no longer use the word Alleluia. There’s a space, a gap where it once was. This lent, may we really notice it is gone. May our liturgy and worship take on a sombre tone, a more serious meaning. And each time we notice its absence – in that silence, may that be our prayer for those who are currently unable to murmur that word of praise; may it be our prayer for the trafficked, the asylum seeker, the traumatised family fleeing war, the homeless, the terrified world leaders, the lonely, the addicted, may it be our prayer for the deepest saddest parts of ourselves. And may we reach Easter, together, in full anticipation of being able to unlock, dig up, our Alleluia, and see it resurrected with the Risen Christ; for each of us, and for those who we remember in love and solidarity this Lent. Amen.
Responsory for Burying the Alleluia:
When Jesus came down from the mount of Transfiguration, he began to tell his disciples that he would be betrayed and crucified.
SOMETIMES WE LOSE OUR ALLELUIA.
Jesus did not enter into glory before he stretched out his arms on the hardwood of the cross.
SOMETIMES WE LOSE OUR ALLELUIA.
Jesus told his disciples, “If you want to become my followers, deny yourselves and take up your cross and follow me.”
SOMETIMES WE MUST LET GO OF OUR ALLELUIA.
For the days of Lent, we stop singing and saying, “Alleluia.”
SOMETIMES WE LET GO OF OUR ALLELUIA.’
At Easter we will again celebrate the Resurrection and sing “Alleluia! Christ is risen.”
IN GOD’S TIME, WE WILL FIND OUR ALLELUIA!