Exodus 24:12-18 Psalm 2 2 Peter 1: 16-21 Matt 17: 1-9
Sometimes it is easy to become complacent about our bible readings – we have these readings every year – we know the story of Transfiguration – there’s Jesus, a mountain, Peter, James and John and a bright light and we know the rest. Sometimes it seems easier to be more enamoured by transfiguration when it is in Professor McGonagalls class at Hogwarts than when it is in our church. But Jesus’ disciples fell to the ground at the sight of the transfiguration. When was the last time I was ever that overwhelmed by the glory of God? Was I ever?
Several years ago, I first heard about this ancient practice, dating back to the 10th century, that can help us to do recapture something of the enormity of these readings – or at least be able to approach them afresh. it is a practice I introduced in my last parish back in 2020 and we did it here last year. It is the practice of burying or locking the alleluia. Do you remember? Let me recap with the words I first read about it. They said this…
‘…nine weeks before Easter, the custom of ceasing to sing ‘Alleluia’ at mass [begins]; a practice referred to in medieval England as ‘locking the Alleluia’. The word was symbolically [and literally] locked away, to be unlocked again amid the celebration of Easter – then the word was released from its captivity, just as Christ would break out of the tomb and human beings would be liberated from captivity to sin.’
I love symbolism in worship, and I love ritual, so I was eager to reintroduce it.
In 2020 I got every child in our local primary school to make their own alleluia on a piece of paper and bring it to church – 350 alleluias in total. And during the Sunday service each member of the congregation made one. They all went into a box and were ‘buried’ underneath the high altar, ready to be spectacularly released on Easter Sunday. Then COVID hit and those symbolic songs of praise were left there, unsung for the next 6 months and they were never resurrected in the way it was intended. And the symbolism of not being able to celebrate the resurrection but rather it being recycled into something else felt very 2020.
Then, last year, we buried the alleluia here.
At the time, we were visiting three friends who were incarcerated at the prison at Perth airport, for seeking asylum here; Ned, Javad and our dear Aref. I had visited them a few weeks before and Aref had given me a Tupperware container with his name on. Do you remember it? In that container, we placed our alleluia letters.
And, with Aref’s box in front of us, we thought about our brothers in detention, and what life was like for them, and how glory couldn’t be further from their experiences. Our readings tell us about standing in glory, with the Divine. But how do we stand, what do we say to our fellow siblings, when we and they are far from that experience.
Well, what we did, as in every lent, is to stop saying the church’s great word of praise and we buried it, as a prayer for those who have lost their alleluia. And then, on easter Sunday, we dug it up and brought it back into church. Except something had changed, something very significant had changed. Two of our friends had been released – Aref was right here when we dug up his now-holy lunch box – in fact, it became the day of his baptism. I can’t put into words what happened in those 40 days, nor the symbolism and significance of that buried alleluia in that box with his name on but, somehow, together, we were witnesses of something close to resurrection.
So it is with some kind of trepidation that we bury the alleluia again this year. Because, what if we aren’t actually burying it at all. What if we are actually PLANTING it? Burying something, digging a hole and putting it into the ground, is very similar to planting, isn’t it? But burying is about marking death and planting is the absolute opposite – planting is about looking for, and waiting for, life.
At the end of the service today we will take our word – alleluia – and we will place it into this tub and we will put it into the ground where we wont see it again until our dawn service on Easter Sunday. But I wonder what we want to see grow here – what and who do we want to see spring into life, or show the first buds of some new creation? What will we place, symbolically, into this tub that God might feed and nurture and break open and transform to add to God’s glory; the glory witnessed on the mountain by Moses and Jesus and Peter and James and John and Elijah.
And as it is buried – as it is planted – so we will no longer use the word Alleluia in our worship. There will be a gap where it once was. 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 lonely, the addicted, may it be our prayer for the deepest saddest parts of ourselves. And may it be a cry to the Divine Gardener – the one we will meet in that garden on easter Sunday – may it be a cry for an outpouring of watering and tending and caring for the shoots that may grow from this planting. And may it all be for the glory of the one who creates and recreates. Amen.
I needed this today. Thank you God fir using Gemma to speak to me.🥰🙏