Saturday, February 20, 2010

Alleluia in Lent

“Not saying Alleluia during Lent is stupid!” This very bold statement is from a post entitled even more audaciously, Not Saying Alleluia During Lent is Stupid (Sure to Cause Apoplexy Among High Church Purists) at Paul T. McCain’s Cyberbrethren.

A response to this is posted at Gaba’s Notebook entitled Stupid Rubrics.

From a certain perspective I have to agree with McCain. It is actually the opposite of his intention, but I nevertheless must say from the proper perspective that “not saying Alleluia during Lent is stupid.” I don’t actually agree with McCain at all, but rather with Saint Paul’s statement concerning the Moron of God, in the 1 Corinthians 1:25 context.

For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Corinthians 1:18-25)

The Moron of God or the Foolishness of God is wiser than men. Yet to sinful man, to the sinful flesh and the Old Adam, the wisdom of God appears as foolishness, and those who follow the way of God appear as morons.

From this perspective I relate to McCain. As the season of Advent approached, as the season of Trinity drew closer and closer to the close of the cycle of the Church year, I began to dread the advent of Advent. I dreaded Advent’s advent because I knew that soon I would no longer be singing the Gloria in Excelsis. It seemed to me that the season of Advent would be stealing away from me the joyous privilege of singing the song of the heralding angels. The Gloria in Excelsis is the preaching of what the Christ Mass really is. Thus, I dreaded the loss of the privilege of singing it and hearing it.

However, after the season began and the full measure of the awareness of the “why” settled over me again, I began to give thanks for this robbery. This was especially true when the season of Christmas had arrived and the exquisite joy of hearing the Gloria in Excelsis was restored after its absence had been felt in my heart and soul during the four weeks of Advent.

After pondering McCain’s outburst concerning the Alleluia not being sung during Lent, especially in observing the clear and deliberate quote from Luther both divorced from its context as well as in deliberate contradiction of its context, I realized more fully the source of my resistance to this ancient liturgical practice.

The source is the sinful flesh and the Old Adam. According to my sinful flesh, according to my sinful nature that is mine by inheritance from Adam, I do not want to face the truth. The truth is that I am unworthy of speaking or singing Alleluia. Alleluia is not truly the possession of the Church on earth. It is ours here on earth only as those who await the redemption of our body:

For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only —they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. (Romans 8:19-23)

The singing of the Alleluia is the possession of the Church on earth in keeping with the rest of the passage quoted above, where St. Paul further explains:

For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it. Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:24-27)

And also,
If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4)

I don’t want to let go of my imagined “right” to sing Alleluia!

I very much prefer the theology of glory, at least according to my fleshly nature. I want to imagine that my singing of Alleluia will loft its way heavenward and fill heaven with joy. I want to imagine that Alleluia is my right as a Christian!

But according to the new man, the one that rises up from the water where the Old Adam is washed away, according to the good conscience of the resurrection afforded me in Baptism (1 Peter 3:21), I thank God for the wisdom of the season of Lent. To the Old Adam, who tries to tread the water of the flood so as to shout his praises heavenward, this wisdom seems moronic. But the new man walks according to spirit and finds that the means of grace are the true means of praise. The new man is happy to be on his knees receiving the glory of God administered in bread and wine for his forgiveness and restoration to the fullness of God’s Holy Communion.

The new man realizes that there is a reason that the Alleluia is not found in the Scriptures of the New Testament until the revelation of the songs of the saints in heaven in Revelation 19. In the Scriptures of the New Testament the Alleluia is only hinted at through admonitions concerning regular use of the Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs and in Old Testament quotations such as Romans 15:11 where St. Paul quotes Psalm 117 but not using Hallel. But the word Alleluia is not actually recorded until it is heard in Revelation 19.

In the accounts of the New Testament a very different language of praise is recorded. Instead of Alleluia we hear “Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” We also hear, “Kyrie Eleison!” (Hosanna = save now & eleison = have mercy.) Sometimes we only hear the sobs of a woman anointing the feet of her Lord and God with perfume and washing His feet with her tears and drying them with her hair. We hear the pitiful cry of the publican in the temple, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” and of the repentant thief on the cross, “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.”

This is not the audacious language of the sinful nature. Not at all! This is the humble and contrite language of repentance. This is the language of John the Baptist and of Jesus: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” Interestingly, neither John nor Jesus stood in the temple shouting “Alleluia!” They did not stand in the temple and call the people to join in praising God. Rather, they went out into the wilderness, where the people would have to abandon all of their lofty praises and be humbled by the harshness of the curse in the world to sit on grass and rocks and soil and to be quiet and listen. For this is the nature of true worship: not to speak and sing the praises of God, but to listen and to hear and to receive the Gospel through the means of grace.

Alleluia is not truly ours to sing at all. Rather, it is the response that God works in us through the seemingly common elements of water and bread and wine. Thus the meal of Thanksgiving is held before us as the showing of the Lord’s death till He comes. It is to this awareness that the season of Lent draws us. It is for this reason that we are urged for a season to set aside our audacious presumptions of Alleluias as our right so that we may again learn to acknowledge them as God’s gifts that have been purchased for us at the cost of the suffering and death of Jesus. Then the Old Adam has no claim on us and is no longer able to puff us up with empty and imaginary rights of our own to praise God. Then we humbly bow before our God and Savior to receive the worthiness of His glory, born of the Virgin, to suffer and die our miserable death for us so that by His glorious merits we are declared righteous to come into the holiness of God and receive the praises that fill us until we overflow with them in our lives and in our worship.

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