Today, we struck out in a totally new direction, and it was flat out wonderful! Tremendous kudos to Michael Miller, Music Director; to Will and Dave Tabar, who pulled together the combo; to the extraordinary members of the combo, Evelyn Wright, Joe Hunter, Scott McKee, Tim Lekan, Gary Jenkins and Will Tabar; and to our choir, who were definitely outside of their comfort zone!
LISTEN TO THE FULL LITURGY:
Sorry about audio quality, but you’ll get the flavor. Next year (and there will be a next year!) we’ll do better.
LISTEN TO JUST THE SERMON:
BURY YOUR ALLELUIA
The Last Sunday of Epiphany, Year B
In the middle ages, I am told though I’ve never actually seen it, there was a liturgy in which a carved “Alleluia” was wrapped in cloth, taken outside, and buried on this Sunday. The wild traditions of Mardi Gras and Carnivale, and our somtime practice of having pancake feasts all come from this same practice of letting us get it all out of our systems before the great quiet and sobriety of Lent descends. Today, you all have your last opportunity to say “Alleluia,” because you will not sing, say, or hear that word again in this building until 7:45 a.m. on April 1st, during our first Eucharist of Easter. There are never any baptisms or weddings between Ash Wednesday and Easter. So, in these simple little ways, we deprive ourselves liturgically. We bury our alleluias
And every year, on the last Sunday of the Epiphany season, the Sunday before Lent begins, we hear one of the Gospel versions of today’s story: the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain top. It is a strange story, a story that has perplexed commentators and preachers from the first. Jesus goes to the top of a mountain to pray with Peter, James, and John.
As Jesus prays, he begins to glow. Then, suddenly, alongside Jesus stand the two great giants of Israel’s religion, two men who represent the two great traditions of Judaism: Moses, who received the Law on a mountain, and Elijah the first great prophet, who, on another mountain, heard God speak in a still small voice. This vision astonishes and terrifies Peter, James, and John. Their typical human response is to try to hold on to this experience, to domesticate and preserve it. Peter offers to build houses for these three men. And then, they hear a voice: “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him.” And then, as if it had never happened, it is over. Jesus is alone with them again. He is silent. He commands his three disciples to be silent. Peter, James, and John bury their alleluias.
You can be forgiven if you think that Lent is meant to be a joyless time. We bury our alleluias, exchanging them for “Lord have mercy,” we put the confession of sin at the beginning of our worship rather than the middle, we strip our sanctuary of cheerful things. The Church traditionally encourages you to go hungry a little bit, to give up some kind of habitual pleasure, and also to work a little harder at your bible study, your prayer life, and your alms-giving. You can be forgiven if all this leads you to believe the season of Lent is when Christianity reveals its true face as a repressive religion. You can be forgiven, but you need also to be corrected. Lent is about joy.
When Peter, James, and John came down from that mountain, they did not kill their joy. No, they instead planted it. Planted it within the soil of their souls, where it could grow deep and strong. Years later, after the events of Jerusalem, after the events of Pentecost, after years of reflection and prayer, their silence would end. They would tell their friends about that miraculous morning with Jesus. They wrote it down so we could hear about that miraculous morning, and their long suppressed Alleluias bubbled forth.
At midnight on Tuesday, the New Orleans police will gently but insistently sweep all the Mardi Gras revelers off of Bourbon Street. At midnight in Rio de Janiero, likewise Carnivale will conclude. Early on Wednesday people all over the world people will begin shuffling into churches to receive smudges of ash on their foreheads and to hear intoned the refrain “remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The party will be over, the funeral march to the cross and tomb begun.
But joy is not killed. Joy is not even hidden. Joy might be buried, but only as a seed is buried. Joy is simply out of sight, growing stronger in its absence, until on Jesus’ resurrection day, on our own resurrection days, Alleluia rings out with suppressed explosive power.
Alleluia. Sing it and say it out loud and strong today, because it won’t be around for awhile. It’s time to bury your alleluia.