By the Rev. Tim Hannon, rector of St. James, Coquille
You can’t read this meditation out loud. I mean, you can, but please don’t. And you shouldn’t, because I’m going to write a word that, usually, we don’t say during Lent: alleluia. Normally, in most liturgical and traditional parts of the Christian Church, we don’t say alleluia during Lent. It’s the “A” word.
It’s an odd tradition, but it’s one that I’ve always found kinda interesting. I mean, it’s just a word, right? Right? Well, this past Sunday, following the dismissal, when I said, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord!”, and you all said, “Thanks be to God!” there was this empty space of silence left open. As someone said to me following the service, “Did you hear all of us biting our tongues not to say it?” Yeah, I did. We want to say it. We want to yell it out. For some people, it’s the best part of the service. But that is, in a way, exactly why we don’t say it.
The word “alleluia” means “praise Yahweh” (there’s another word that we actually shouldn’t be saying – more on that another time). And we may rightly ask: why should we stop praising God? Why hold ourselves back? We’re living in the time of Jesus Christ, the eighth day of Creation, when all things are being made new. And we are Christians for crying out loud! Shouldn’t we be praising God up, down, left, and right? Why hold it in? Why hold in the joy at being granted eternal and everlasting life from the Lord of all Creation? Isn’t that what being a Christian is about? Isn’t that what being in a right relationship with God is all about?
Well yes, and also no. Yes, we are living in a new relationship with God through Jesus Christ; and yes, we should be praising God, seeking after God, and loving God to the fullness of our being. The life of the Christian is to practice this sort of life and to live this sort of life. But discipleship as a Christian isn’t a gas pedal pushed to the floor. Discipleship requires reflection, contemplation, looking at ourselves (at times critically) and asking why we are doing all this to begin with. And, to do that, we can’t always be “praising” God.
What happens when we reflect on something? What happens when we turn to look at what we’re doing and examine it with a critical eye? Sometimes we find ways to do things better or to get better results. I remember reflecting often on lessons I taught in class: did the students learn the material? Was I too confusing or long-winded? Did the tests accurately examine the students’ knowledge? And following this reflection, I would tweak things here or there, or sometimes I’d throw out whole lessons and start from scratch. And, hopefully, what I came up with afterwards worked better than what I had before.
But something else happens – or can happen – when we reflect on our praise of God. Praising God isn’t about our prayers “working” better or more effectively. Living a deeper life in Jesus Christ isn’t about crafting the perfect life. Praising God is saying “I love you” to the source of all Life. Sure, we could do that better, but that’s not the point. For when we reflect on our praise, we reflect not on our words or our actions but on the Person we are giving our Love. We are looking again, turning once more, and focusing all our attention on that Life and that Love that founds all things. And sometimes we need to stop praising in order to return our gaze to God.
In forty days we will say that blessed “A” word again. It will be at the Easter Vigil, if you remember. Halfway through the service, after the candles and the darkness, the songs and the readings from the whole history of Scripture. We’ll throw on the lights and cry out with those words, filling that space that we left open this morning after the dismissal, and filling that space within our own hearts that is ever being reconciled to God. And that word will fill the darkness, for it is a word that bears with it the love and hope of God Almighty, against whom death and despair are powerless.