Burying the Alleluia

There is a tradition that goes back to at least the fifth century in the western Church of omitting "alleluias" during the Lenten season. Since "alleluia" was and is associated with Easter, it became a custom of intentionally omitting it from the liturgy, prayers and songs. It was a kind of a verbal fast. It created a sense of anticipation and even greater joy when the familiar word of praise returned.

Eventually the idea of "burying alleluias" emerged. This is done in a variety of ways. Some churches print out the word on strips of paper and invite parishioners to bury the paper underneath a flower bulb, such as a tulip or a daffodil. The idea being, when a shoot from the ground is visible or maybe even the whole flower itself, it is a reminder of the resurrection. Some churches simply hide an Alleluia banner around the church building and then have the children look for it on Sunday morning.

When burying the alleluia, we let it rest, as it were, during Lent, so that when it reappears on Easter, we may hear it anew. In fact, once it returns on Easter, we give it no rest at all, repeating it again and again in liturgy, prayers and songs, in the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus.

I have been thinking quite a bit about this tradition in the last couple of days. I worry that in the church and certainly in our country right now, we have buried our alleluias. We have lost our ability to see and proclaim the hope, joy, and wonder of this life that God has given us.

The truth is we don't have to search too far or think too long to realize why we have temporarily lost our alleluias.

We have lost our patience in waiting for something life-giving to emerge in the midst of such death and destruction.

We have lost our ability to look for signs of positive change and action.

We have lost our belief that love indeed is stronger than evil.

We have lost our courage and our nerve to dare to believe in and work towards a better tomorrow for our children and grandchildren.

Yes, we have lost our alleluias. We have buried them too deep, forgetting to search for them and rejoice in the true alleluias of hope eternal that still exists in our lives and in the world.

For a time, it is ok to bury our alleluias. Yet, my prayer for you, for me, for our country and this world is that in God's time and by God's resurrecting power, we will rediscover our alleluias. May we once again discover and rejoice in the transforming hope of Christ Jesus.

Blessings, Rev. Shana Johnson, Conference Minister