Sunday, April 17, 2011

Songs that are not Alleluia

We are not ready. There is too much. There is too much going on. There is too much going on here. We are finishing up Lent, managing palm fronds and crosses. We are getting ready for a change of season. And we are trying desperately not to say Alleluia.

Songs that are not Alleluia are required of us today. Close – Hosannas – but not yet Alleluia. So don’t say it – don’t say that word. Not yet.

What sun comes up today is not the sunrise of Easter. It is preliminary, a foretaste of things to come, a hint of what has to happen. For this is the story: that Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate was crucified, died, and was buried – but it is not the end of the story.

For Jesus it was the end but it was the beginning of new life – for us, for him, for all people. For what he gave to us, in dying, was a place in his kingdom.

In dying he gave us life; he set us free. Like Barabbas we were under condemnation – bound to die. But Jesus stood there and took it. He took on himself our burdens and sins.

Quite how he did it we try to explain – we are full of theories; we call it Atonement. What we know is that through his life and death – his sacrifice of himself – we were made at one with God – reconciled – made right. In ourselves we feel unworthy; we are made worthy in him, through him, and with him to approach the throne of grace.

The throne where we find, seated at the right hand of the father, a friend.

He gave us the dignity of human persons, once lost, now set right before God – and therefore free. No human constraint, no ruler nor principality nor power of this world, can come between us and our God – and the place Jesus won for us and gives us, undeserved free gift, in heaven.

His kingdom is coming, and now is, as we take hold of the awesome fact – God gave his Son that all who believe in him, who trust in him, will find in him, as they dwell in him, everlasting life.

This is redeemed life that begins now – that does not wait – but is already present.

This day of all days as we move from the triumphant procession of the people – waving palms and singing, Hosanna, Son of David, at last he is here, come to set his people free,

This day that continues through plots and scheming, confusion and frustration, betrayal and sorrow, warnings and celebrations,

This day that we come at last to the Cross – and the Tomb;

This day there is too much going on.

How could we be ready? How could we be ready – to open our hearts, to receive the savior, to turn to him who is life?

How could we be ready for what happens?

The one who is our hope, the one who brings us life – must first encounter death – in obedience surrender himself to the guards, endure interrogation and torture, and at the last through wood and nails, suffer execution by the cruel engine of crucifixion.

Only then, after that, through that, not avoiding it is new life won.

It does not look like it now, as the stone is rolled against the tomb, and the soldiers’ guard is set, and the women watch – and wait.

And so we sing songs that are not Alleluia.

Not yet.

[But something new is on the way … Something new is coming: how can we be ready to receive it?]

Lord, you give us life, you give us love, you give us yourself: help us to give our lives, our love, our selves to you; through Jesus Christ who died and rose again for us and who lives with you and the Holy Spirit in everlasting light. Amen.

[Jesus is like Moses in that way: leading the people of Israel, soldiers on their heels, to the edge of the red sea; something held those soldiers back. And in Jesus plunged, passing through the midst of the waters, immersed as in baptism, not going back, not back to the old life of bondage to sin, but through and on to the further shore – and he guides us across the flood tide of life’s fortunes and failings, to our own liberation.]


To Tara Ward I owe the phrase "songs that are not 'Alleluia'" - and I look forward to seeing her use it in a quite different context.


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