Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!
This is our chant, our cheer for today! This day that overflows with alleluias. Alleluia is our word of praise to God, and it is everywhere—you find the word on banners and on signs, the word in our mouths and in our songs.
The word “alleluia” means “praise the Lord” and stems from the Hebrew word “halal,” which is the verb “to praise.” The Hebrew word “halal” was used in psalms of praise, especially in those psalms remembering God’s saving work to bring the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt. This is what is remembered in the Passover observance, which our Jewish siblings have celebrated this week. This is an ancient alleluia that rises up even from the depths of despair, trusting in God’s saving grace.
We carry on the same song of our Jewish siblings, singing the words of the psalms or chanting the lines of the psalms. Alleluia is a regular part of worship on almost any Sunday of the year, except during Lent when we put away the alleluia of praise, when we turn our hearts to God in repentance.
On Easter Sunday, our alleluia is even bigger than usual; we pull out all the stops. Our senses are overwhelmed—the sight of beautiful banners and flowers, maybe we even put on special clothes for today, and the light coming through the stained-glass windows, it hits different today. We can smell the flowers. We hear the sounds of choir voices lifted in song, full-throated praise on the pipe organ, and we will even hear the lovely sound of the handbells, which the choir recorded earlier this week.
We will even touch and taste the mystery in the sacrament of Holy Communion, after many weeks of fasting. As we take Christ’s body and blood in the bread and wine of Holy Communion, we will proclaim the mystery of faith: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.
This is the mystery we proclaim, that God brings life out of death, and because we trust in God’s power, because we have witnessed that God has kept God’s promises, we trust that Christ will come again, just as he told us he will. And we will say alleluia.
This is no ordinary alleluia. It took some work to get here—but perhaps you didn’t see the preparation that goes into a day like today. Of course we all prepared our hearts by spending time with the Passion story during Holy Week, but a festival day like today calls for everyone to share their expertise. We don’t just say alleluia; we live alleluia. The work that goes into praising God is a sacrifice of praise.
Every celebration of Easter is a sacrifice of praise—usually there’s a spring clean-up event, or some kind of church brunch to plan. The pandemic has changed our plans again this year, but we’ve been no less busy. Instead of a big event, we’ve had small groups of property volunteers who have cleaned up flower beds and checked on the new lighting system in the sanctuary, as well as the altar guild who has attended to the sanctuary space during Holy Week and decorated for Easter with the flowers provided by many in the congregation, to honor loved ones.
And there’s other stuff, too, going on behind the scenes. We’ve had a re-opening team which has met regularly over the past year to determine when and how to return to in-person worship as safely as possible. Perhaps you’re joining in with worship online, thanks to the people dedicated to connecting the church with the help of technology, creating videos and posting reminders about events online and in-person. Our church staff have kept track of who will gather in-person, and we’ve edited and re-edited worship bulletins and set them in the pews, ready for you who gather here.
Our musicians have been practicing and recording their work to share; handbell-ringers have been ringing and choir members have been singing. Perhaps you haven’t seen that our children have been making decorations and delivering them to other church members, and our youth have been preparing and hiding Easter eggs in yards so that young kids can have their own Easter egg hunts at home.
All of this is our alleluia, our praise and thanksgiving to God, a sign of love for the One who has shown such love to us. We’re not showing off to God so we can earn God’s grace; that isn’t possible. We’re responding with love and gratitude to God who loved us first. And in our celebration, we have pulled out all the stops, done everything possible to praise God. It is a sacrifice of praise—a sacrifice of time, energy, thought, money, treasures, our very selves.
I heard the story of a woman who was in the middle of a difficult pregnancy. She was accustomed to being very active and involved, but to protect the life growing within her, she had to remain on bedrest. She was physically still, but she wasn’t going to do nothing. She took up embroidering and turned her attention to creating banners for her church’s sanctuary, embroidering the word alleluia on a banner to hang on the altar.
Even as God’s hand was knitting together the life and limbs of the baby growing inside, this woman spent many hours working the golden thread with her hands to bring forth the praise of alleluia. It wasn’t easy, and many years later, after the baby was born healthy and grew up strong, years after that alleluia banner shouted praise from the altar, this woman remembered the whole experience and told me, “Alleluia was never the same again.” Hers was a sacrifice of praise.
Alleluia doesn’t mean we forget the challenges of the past. Alleluia may sound different when it is spoken in a weak voice, a cold and broken alleluia, but it is no less pr