“All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”—Book of Common Prayer, Burial Rite II, page 499.
I’m not a big fan of Lenten disciplines (is anyone?) but one discipline I’ve cottoned onto is the omission of ‘alleluia,’ not only from the liturgy, but from the regular conversations of my life. That’s why when I blogged about it this Lent, I couldn’t manage even to type the word out on my computer! It’s a weirdness I have. I admit it.
So imagine my excitement every year when Melissa sings it for the first time, punctures the power of another alleluia-less Lent, breaks the rule because on Easter Day the rule becomes its opposite: “Alleluia, Christ is risen!” she calls. And we sing back, “The Lord is risen indeed, alleluia!”
But this year, I didn’t get very excited. To be honest, as the lights flashed on and the bells rang and we sang the Gloria and we once again filled the liturgy with countless ‘alleluias,’ I didn’t feel glad. I felt a little manipulated. I thought, “I’m supposed to be chipper. Too bad I’m not.”
The biggest reason of course is that our delightful dog Hoshi ran off with our hearts on Holy Monday. His own heart gave out, and he died, poor baby, on a table in a clinic in Lynnwood, around 4:30 a.m. Nowhere in Scripture or our tradition do we hold that non-human animals receive the gift of eternal life. Yet I wonder: Hoshi’s premature death was so outrageous, so palpably sad, so unnecessary, so impossible to explain or interpret or justify…why can’t I hold out a little hope, childish though it might be, that I’ll see him again, that the line in Revelation about tears being wiped from our eyes means—for me at least—that Hoshi himself will greet me one day and lick my eyes (one of his weird but delightful pastimes)? That would take care of the tears, let me tell you.
And there are other reasons not to sing ‘alleluia’ with enthusiasm. I am not so self-focused to think that the grief of our family eclipses the grief that haunts the countless billions on earth who know death, live in the midst of death, call death by many names—many familiar names.
So here’s how I’ve worked it out, at least this year. This year—and every year, to some extent—I can’t sing ‘alleluia’ on Easter without thinking of All Souls, that holy day of black vestments, that day when the Church stares death squarely in the face and sings, “All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”
If I made an ‘alleluia’ banner, I would weave strands of crimson and black into it. If I typed the word out, I would punctuate it with a period, not an exclamation mark. If I rang an ‘alleluia’ bell, I would let some of the soundings clang and clatter. If I sang the Great Alleluia—which we all did at the Vigil—I would drop out here and there. It’s not because I doubt the Good News of Resurrection, though often enough I do. It’s certainly not that I’m mad—at God, or the Church, or anyone in particular—that despite Christ’s redemptive work of salvation, humanity still contends with death, grief, injustice, and despair. (Seriously. I’m a therapist and I’ve had some therapy: I’m sad but I’m not angry! ;)
No, I would color my ‘alleluia’ crimson because I might be singing ‘alleluia,’ but I’m also—no joke—standing by that grave. I might rejoice in Christ’s presence, but there is still those aching absences. Hoshi. My mother. My friend Richard. The grief felt by those I love. The silent prophetic voices of all the innocent dead.
I’m not chipper this Easter. But I am singing…when I can. And when I sing, I eke it out, that great and terrible word, that song of joyful life in the midst of death:
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.
Stephen is a therapist and postulant to the Diaconate. You can find his personal blog here.