Encouragement From The Word

Keep your Alleluias!

This week marked Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent.  I saw a post on social media about the tradition that some have during this period of the year where they put away, or “bury”, their “Alleluias” – they do not use this term to praise the Lord throughout the season of Lent, as a sign of penitence.

I think this is a wrong and misguided tradition.  Let me tell you why.

Sometimes, little words make a big difference.  For example, the church marks the Sundays in Lent, not the Sundays of Lent.  What’s the difference?  Well, Lent is marked for forty days, that being a biblically significant number (think flood, exodus, temptation, etc.).  But if you count the number of days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Day, you will find more than forty.  Why?

Because the Sundays aren’t included.  Every Sunday, no matter the season, is a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus.  So yes, you might hide your Alleluias from Monday to Saturday, but on Sunday, you are enjoined to haul them back out, because even though we trace the route to the cross in Lent, each Sunday remains a celebration of the resurrection, a “little Easter”.  

Whatever you may choose to do to mark the season of Lent, set it aside as you enter public worship, because every Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection.  It is a break from the fast.  It is a relief from the penitence.  

And we can count it all joy.

Praise the Lord!

Praise God in his sanctuary;
    praise him in his mighty heaven!
Praise him for his mighty works;
    praise his unequaled greatness!
Praise him with a blast of the ram’s horn;
    praise him with the lyre and harp!
Praise him with the tambourine and dancing;
    praise him with strings and flutes!
Praise him with a clash of cymbals;
    praise him with loud clanging cymbals.
Let everything that breathes sing praises to the Lord!

Praise the Lord!  (Psalm 150, NLT)

Encouragement From The Word

Don’t hide your ‘alleluias’

The English poet Christina Rossetti (1830-1894) wrote prolifically, and focused frequently on her vibrant faith.  An Oxford Movement Anglican, she often structured her poetry around the Christian year.

Here is one of her poems for Lent, the season which, this year, began on Wednesday of this week.

It is good to be last not first,

            Pending the present distress;

It is good to hunger and thirst,

            So it be for righteousness.

It is good to spend and be spent,

            It is good to watch and to pray:

Life and Death make a goodly Lent

            So it leads us to Easter Day.

What strikes me about that poem is the very last line.  It reminds us of the purpose of Lent.  It is not an end in itself, nor is it some sort of religious diet or austerity plan.  It is a means to an end.  Lent is designed to prepare us for Easter.

Just as a measured celebration of Advent makes Christmas more special, so too does Lent, celebrated appropriately, make Easter more meaningful.  By “celebrated appropriately”, one could mean any number of things, but at the very least, it means remembering that there are but 40 days in Lent:  Sundays are not included.  Each Sunday remains a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus.  There is no reason to hide our ‘alleluias’ on those Sundays, because each Lord’s Day is a reminder that the Lord is risen.

So, be last and not first; hunger and thirst; spend and be spent – as long as it leads to Easter Day.  The story ends well, indeed, victoriously!  Keep that end in mind, however you choose to celebrate Lent.

But thank God!  He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15.57, NLT).