Brooks: What? I Can’t Say, “Alleluia”?
Justin Brooks (email)
The blood completely drained from my face. With a choir of high schoolers behind me and a student body of about 1,000 students and faculty of a local Episcopal school in front, I was futilely trying to lead them in a boisterous rendition of “All Creatures Of Our God And King” in which the refrain repeats over and over, “Alleluia! Alleluia!”
As the puzzled looks, shaking heads and deafening silences met me with a glare, the realization crept in; “Oh no. It’s Lent.” Not “Oh no” to the season of Lent, but “Oh no” because I suddenly had the same feeling of the guy who is gossiping about someone, only to realize that person right behind them. (You know, like other people do.)
You see, I had only been leading worship in Anglican contexts for a few months at this point and had heard, but completely forgot: you don’t sing or say, “Alleluia” during Lent. Some of my friends who worship in non-liturgical churches might be asking, “Whaaaat?” right about now. I know I did. So let us stop here and take a look at why this is and how it helps us.
The Lenten season is part of what is called the “Liturgical Year” or “Church Calendar.” It was developed by the early Church as a way for us to symbolically walk with Christ through his life, shaping and forming us to be more like Him in the process. The year begins with anticipating his coming during Advent, followed by the celebration of his arrival at Christmas.
Epiphany observes his revelation to the Gentiles and to all that He is the Son Of God. During Lent, we humbly come before God, remembering we are dust, and to dust we shall return as we observe our sin and walk with Him as he went into the wilderness to fast, pray and be tempted. This will lead us into Holy Week, where we follow Jesus to his death on the cross on Good Friday, burial, then his resurrection on Easter Sunday.
You are probably saying, “Yes, I’m all for that, but get back to the part where I can’t say ‘Alleluia.’ ” It has nothing to do with us withholding praise for all Jesus has done; it is about refocusing that praise to a discipline of observing our brokenness, mourning our sin as King David did in Psalm 51, so that when Easter comes, our joy and worship may be full and complete.
Alleluia is the Greek translation of the Hebrew term Hallelujah which means, “Praise Yahweh” or “Praise the Lord.” We use this term to praise God that salvation is here; that it has come in the form of His Son, Jesus. However, during Lent we are given the gift of six weeks to focus on the fact that we are in need a Savior.
The consequence of our sin has put us in exile but we anticipate the saving grace to come by Christ’s death and resurrection. We go with Him into the wilderness, to fast, pray and reflect. But the day of resurrection is coming, and on that Easter Sunday, we celebrate the fact that our sin no longer holds sway over our salvation and we can be joyful in having the privilege of shouting “Alleluia!” that we have been made complete in Him.
If you are looking for some tools to help enrich and shape your prayer life during this Lenten season, I highly recommend making the aforementioned Psalm 51 part of your daily prayers. We also have been learning an 18th century Samuel Medley hymn, “To Thee I Come” in our Uptown services. This is also a great Lenten prayer to have on our hearts throughout the day.
As we walk through this time together, I pray we would draw near to the heart of God, and to feel the nearness of His presence.