Monday, February 25, 2008

Alleluias on my Lent

One of the ways that the liturgical Church weaves the spirit of repentance into the fabric of the service is by refraining from saying the word Alleluia for the six weeks of Lent. When the liturgy incorporates the word at various regular key moments, its absence is loud. The songs that are selected during this time are for the most part somber, and they avoid the word Alleluia.

This Sunday as I practiced singing with the worship team, a fluxuateing group of people in my church that recently lost its worship leader, I noticed that the songs chosen for this third Sunday in Lent were more joyful than I would have anticipated. Since we are grateful these days for anyone who is willing to lead worship, I was prepared to let that slide. But at some point after we were done practicing and before communion began, a more liturgically-grounded member of the church brought to our attention that we could not sing three of the songs selected: they not only contained, but emphasized and repeated the word Alleluia.

In a brief time of panic during announcements, right before the offering in which we would sing the first of the Alleluia-songs, our scrounging worship team tried to come up with a solution. The musicians did not feel able to play songs we had not prepared, and our selection was greatly dwindled by omitting the three songs on the chopping-block. The keyboardist was frazzled by the suggestion of changing orders and transitions of the songs we had prepared, and we had about two minutes to whisper through the dilemma.

I’m sure to people who come from a more Evangelical background, this sounds like a comedic example of the ridiculousness of allowing tradition to reign its tyrannical forces over a worship service. But before you dismiss the liturgists completely, let me say this much: I was on their side. Since I was introduced to the Anglican Church five years ago, I have been blessed by the rhythm that the Church calendar provides, forcing me to mourn when it is a time to mourn and to rejoice when it is a time to rejoice. The structures built into the Church seasons allow us to enact the story of the people of God together, and allow me as an individual to follow that story in my own life.

And it is definitely Lent right now, and Lord knows there is plenty about which I need to be in a spirit of repentance.

One of the deacons was on the worship team, and he whispered to our frazzled group to continue as originally planned. I was disappointed to be deprived of a somber Lenten service to remind me of my brokenness before a Holy God, but knew it was not an appropriate time for theological qualms.

“Before we move into this next song,” the deacon announced when the offering began, “I want to take a moment to remember that Lent is a season of repentance and mourning. The Church has many ways of reminding us of that, and one of them is refraining from singing the word Alleluia during this season.

“But we also remember that Sunday is still considered a feast day in which we celebrate the Resurrection, and many people commemorate this by a brief remission of their personal fasts. Please experience this service as a feast of Alleluias here in the middle of Lent. Remember to rejoice, even in a time of grief.”

One might imagine that my behind-the-scenes look at this “Feast of Alleluias” would have made me cynical, calling it a rhetorical cover-up of the mistake we made in our planning. On the contrary, it invited me to feast all the more so (especially after a week of at least four hugely significant and equally unexpected Alleluias in my own life). Our own botched bunglings led to a celebratory “feast” during Lent. That sounds a lot like Grace to me, especially if it is out of season. And I, who have spent months laboring to listen to the voices that call me to repentance, was thereby in the right posture to listen to the voice of celebration.

God is declaring Alleluias on my Lent.

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