The butterflies above us are more than just paper shapes. Seven weeks ago, on Transfiguration Sunday, we waved strips of paper that said “Alleluia” and “Hallelujah”. As we heard the story of Elijah and Moses appearing to Jesus, the awed disciples, and Jesus’ dazzling appearance (as well as the command to listen to the Beloved Son), we waved our papers. We knew the goodbye was coming, the season with no alleluia.
At the end of that service, we carried the “alleluias” away- putting away the phrase “Praise God” for the season of Lent. It is not that we haven’t been grateful or that in Lent, resurrection isn’t true. It is just a trip within the journey of our faith life for more solemn contemplation and reflection.
We are not who we were seven weeks ago. We have experienced physical changes, events of life- both good and bad, and learned or forgotten things (or both) in the time since we last said “alleluia”. Since we have changed, the nature of our alleluias has changed as well. Our changes do not change God, but they may change what we know about God, how we experience the Divine, how much mystery we are able to accept, how much grace we are able to perceive. We come to celebrate the resurrection and the victory over death, having experienced more of both in the past seven weeks.
A changed understanding of God alters our praise. Thus, after changes in life, we do not have the same alleluias we had seven weeks ago. In seven weeks, we have had a death in the immediate congregation, several elders injured or hospitalized, the suicide of someone’s sibling, the end of life of someone’s father and someone else’s mother, the deaths of several friends, car accidents, and falls.
In seven weeks, we have seen more than one school shooting and an uprising of youth across the country demanding safety and change. We have watched the Austin bombings and we have seen at least on unarmed black man be killed by police in his own backyard while talking on his phone.
In the past seven weeks, China removed term limits so that the current president may remain in place for life. Russia held an “election” and Vladimir Putin remained in power. We learned that slavery is a read and present struggle in Libya.
In Anchorage, a truck hit a bridge and everyone thought more seriously about our one road situation. We have heard ads, seen ads, and been inundated with mailers for Tuesday’s election. We thought winter might be ending and then we had a lot more snow.
In the past seven weeks, this congregation talked about stewardship with Chris and Karla. We explored evangelism with Intern Pastor Kate. We read “faith without works is dead” five times over five Wednesdays. We talked about the “I am” statements that Jesus makes in the Fourth Gospel. We learned about the stages of faith.
In seven weeks, we took communion eight times. We passed the peace six times. We made sandwiches twice and waved palms once.
Our alleluias are not, cannot be, what they were. And they are not what they may be in seven more weeks.
This week I had two profound spiritual experiences. The first was on Thursday when I was meditating on my reading for the day. As I read about Jesus being brought to trial in the courtyard of the high priest, I imagined myself in the scene. In my imagination, the large courtyard had a stone wall that I could see over and watch what was happening. I was with a large crowd of people who had also come to see what was happening.
As I watched the proceedings, I felt overwhelmed by the awareness that I couldn’t do anything for Jesus. In fact, I heard a voice tell me, “You can do nothing for Jesus here.” If I couldn’t do anything for him there, where could I do something for him? I felt compelled to look around me.
In the crowd, there were people who were stricken by what was happening, sad and afraid. There were those who were angry, not necessarily with Jesus, but they were itching to see anyone get “their due”. There were people on the edges of the crowd, technically unclean and not permitted to mix with the rest of the group. There were people who looked crestfallen, having hoped that something would be different.
“You can do something for Jesus here,” I heard. “Jesus is also out here.” At that moment, I was physically aware that I was having the same reaction to this spiritual experience in my body as I would have in a real crowd. I felt hypervigilant about the mix of energies, the potential threats, and the heightened awareness of so many people’s desires, hopes, and dreams. It felt like a time collapse, as though I could look at the crowd and then look back at Jesus in the courtyard, then look at the crowd and look forward again to a contemporary rally, protest, or contentious online debate.
And still, I heard, “Jesus is also out here.”
On Friday evening here, we read through the passion narrative from Mark. In order to change things up, I prepared the service such that the gathered congregation would read the words of Jesus with single or joint voices reading the other parts. When the voices gathered spoke as Jesus, the sound filled the space. It almost vibrated. I had never experienced Jesus’ words being spoken with so much depth and tone.
As the sound waves moved through me, I heard “Jesus is also out here.”
My alleluia isn’t what it was seven weeks ago. Through being part of this community, and my family, and my social groups, and a citizen of this city, state, and country, I have had experiences that have changed what I understand about God, how I think about stewardship, how I approach evangelism, what I ponder about faith.
I feel overcome by the direction of the Spirit to pay attention to “Jesus is also out here”.
Resurrection itself is not what causes us to praise God with alleluias. It is the daily, hourly, minute-by-minute work of the Holy Spirit that stirs, compels, and consoles us. It is the peace that passes our understanding. It is the quality of grace that shapes, molds, and leads us to die to our own need for control in all things.
Jesus is also out here. Resurrection truth is that Christ has promised to meet us in our own Galilee- where we live, where we move, where we have our being- and be present to us there. Trusting this, we find our alleluias transfigured, multiplied, shared, and held tenderly.
We raise them high. They are not what they were. They are not what they will be. But right here, right now, they are how we praise the God who has defeated death, has brought us this far, and who gives us hope for each tomorrow and the work it will contain.
Alleluia, alleluia. Christ is risen.
(He is risen indeed. Alleluia. Alleluia.)