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 praise to God. This is the alleluia that Jesus and his disciples would have been singing as they celebrated Passover, which also happened to be Jesus’s last supper. When Jesus gathered with his disciples for that meal, he reminded them of everything he had taught them and he gave them one more commandment: to love one another as he loves them. Jesus knew he was about to die, and still he was singing alleluia, singing praise to God. The disciples were there, too, and they were witnesses. Alleluia would never be the same again.
It was never easy following Jesus, but it must have been much more confusing when all his teaching about God’s kingdom, all his love for the most vulnerable, and all his healing ended abruptly with his violent death. After Jesus dies on the cross, the disciples are stunned into silence and paralyzed with fear. They won’t leave their homes.
But the women venture out, determined to honor Jesus in death by anointing his body with prepared spices. The women had not believed what Jesus said about rising again—they show up at the tomb with spices, expecting to find a dead body. Instead what they find is an empty tomb.
Everything has happened just as Jesus said it would happen, and now he is risen. The women had forgotten, but there’s a young man in a white robe there to jog their memory: “He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”
And then THEY SAID NOTHING TO ANYONE, FOR THEY WERE AFRAID. And that’s it. Mark’s Gospel ends there. That’s the END. They said nothing, for they were afraid. This is one of those places in the Bible that invite you to wonder: can this possibly be true? If they said nothing, then how did WE hear this story?
How DID you hear this story of Jesus? Who taught you? Who showed you the way? Who forgave you and taught you the power of forgiveness? Who has loved you unconditionally? Who proclaimed grace to you? What did it feel like when you took what you learned and proclaimed it? How are you proclaiming it now?
Mark’s Gospel ends with the words “they said nothing to anyone for they were afraid.” Come on, Mark! That’s not an ending. You don’t end a story that way! No resolution, no tying it up nearly with a bow, no happily ever after—UNLESS…UNLESS the Gospel writer Mark did this on PURPOSE?
And now that you have heard the testimony, the story is yours to proclaim. Friends, this is a Gospel that doesn’t end. We’re still here, still telling the story, still proclaiming God’s radical, life-giving, death-defying love, still singing alleluia thousands of years later. And we need one another telling the story.
Because the day might come when you forget. You might forget alleluia. You might forget what Jesus has told you. But God will find a way to remind you—whether by an angel, or a young person dressed in a white robe, or a sticky note, or a friend sent to you at just the right time. God will not forget, and the church will not forget. As the church, we will continue to proclaim alleluia. We will continue to speak the truth. We will continue to proclaim the mystery of faith: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.
And we will sing alleluia. For those of us here in the sanctuary, we must sing the alleluia silently, in our hearts, letting our music leaders sing on our behalf—but trust, my friends, there will be singing outdoors after worship, when we can wear masks and enjoy the fresh air outside. So those of you at home, sing it up loud, or come join us in the church yard after worship!
And until then, the pipe organ will be our voice, our alleluia, our sacrifice of praise.
We will sing alleluia for people like the disciple Peter, who denied Jesus but met the risen Christ. His alleluia was never the same again when he preached, “We are witnesses to all that Jesus did…”
We will sing alleluia after this difficult year of isolation, knowing that alleluia will never be the same again.
We will sing alleluia for those who don’t have a voice to sing, for those who are hurting and afraid, for those who can’t breathe.
We will live alleluia, serving those in need because we have experienced the radical love of Jesus and the powerful welcome, being set free from sin as children of God.
We will live alleluia by feeding the hungry, caring for the poor, advocating for the outcasts, visiting the sick and those in prison—this is where we will see the risen Jesus Christ.
We will live alleluia as we await Christ’s coming with joy and certainty that God’s reign brings healing.
We will sing alleluia because we will never be the same again. *silence*
In this celebration of Christ’s resurrection, we pull out all the stops. Do you know what that means? That phrase “pull out all the stops” refers to the handles on a pipe organ that regulate the sound and the volume. And as we are sitting here, our organist Ella is pulling out the stops, and by the time we reach the end, you will know what it sounds like when she pulls out all the stops. Those of us sitting here, we don’t get to sing with our voices, but you will feel the sound in your body—this sound has power! And you are a part of it. We are witnesses to all that God has done.
We will sing alleluia as our testimony.
We will live alleluia as we love our neighbors as Christ has loved us, and we will never be the same.
We will sing alleluia.
We will live alleluia.