ALLELUIA! ALLELUIA! ALLELUIA!
St. Stephen’s is an alleluia kind of a place. My first Sunday as your priest was the First Sunday of Advent in 2000. Traditionally, Advent is treated as a season of preparation and has a penitential flavor to it. After all, it begins with apocalyptic visions, and then provides two weeks of John the Baptist calling folks to repentance. So, my first Sunday with you all, I offered the dismissal with no alleluias, and you did not know how to respond. Beginning my first day, you all taught me that we are an alleluia kind of a place.
When Rev. Jane Bearden joined us as a Deacon, her delight in the young people of St. Stephen’s, and her joy in sending us forth to “love and serve the Lord” resulted in the tradition of the children of the parish inviting us into our alleluias. As those who sit in the back know, each Sunday clergy must negotiate alleluias (usually down) with the gathered crowd of kids.
On the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, young people decorate letters and we bury our alleluias for Lent. Each Lenten Sunday, a crew of restless kids gathers in the back with the clergy in silent vigil for the buried alleluias. Each week, we ask them how many alleluias and, while some suggest they sneak a few, the older ones solemnly declare zero. They know alleluias return at Easter.
This past Tuesday at dinner with the monks in Cambridge, one Brother admitted that he was done with Lent. He said, “I just want to start shouting the A word.” I replied that we at St. Stephen’s had not yet managed an “A” free Sunday during Lent. When Junior Warden Tim Potter let one slip a couple of Sundays ago, he jokingly asked if perhaps he should resign his position. As the conversation continued, the Brother admitted that one Evensong, he and the other Brother leading the chants got distracted by a latecomer settling loudly, moving about, and sitting in a wrong place. The result of their distraction was a loudly sung Alleluia! He said the rest of the Community stared at them in stunned horror. What had they done!
While these changes in our worship from season to season can feel artificial, they do make us mindful of the flow of the church year. But more significantly, they remind us of the seasons of our own lives. We all know that there are times when it’s hard to shout for joy. There are times of introspection and reflection, times when we need to be prayerful and penitent, times when joy may feel distant. Lent reminds us of the reality of and need for these moments. And then there are seasons when our joy can scarcely be contained, and we want to share it with anyone and everyone. Easter and alleluias call us back to the joy for which God created us.
Fear not! Our Alleluias will return for Easter. But, it seems to me that year ‘round St. Stephen’s is an alleluia kind of a place because we hold tight to the hope of Christ and the possibility of new life. We know that life isn’t always pretty and that often it can be hard; yet still, we trust in a risen Lord who leads us into life. Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!