Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah (Live 1985)
Last week, I presided at two funerals, which is pretty unusual, but not unheard of. The almost impossible thing was that the two funerals were both in the smallest of the congregations that I serve. Somehow, Chestnut Grove managed to have two funerals in one week.
Normally, as part of our worship piety, we don't use "Alleluia" or it s variants during Lent, the six plus weeks before Easter. We change the gospel acclamation to something more somber. We sing sadder hymns in minor keys with odd meters. We save our Alleluias for Easter.
Except when we don't.
I normally follow the worship rules. Heck, sometimes I make other people follow the worship rules.
But the Alleluia rule must be broken when we stand at the grave of a loved one. We must sing Alleluia there lest sin, death, and the power of the devil believe for one moment that they have won the day. To me, the Christian funeral is not about the deceased person. It is about the victory of Jesus Christ and the defeat of death. We must sing our Alleluias or we forget that even in our grief we are celebrating a victory. As we sing, it is an act of defiance over all the forces that might draw us and this world from God.
So twice last week, we walked down to the cemetery, a gaping hole in the ground in front of us, and we sang this hymn that I composed years ago for the burial of Jim Behney. It is to the tune of Amazing Grace:
We all go down into the dust,
Yet even there we sing.
Ev’n at the grave we sing.
Don’t mourn as those who have no hope.
Christ died and rose again.
For those who’ve died with Jesus Christ
Are raised by his command.
For if we live, we live to Christ;
To die we die in him.
We conquer through the Lord’s defeat,
So raise our grateful hymn.
Text: Ben Leese, paraphrase of Orthodox text, 1 Thesalonians 4.13-16, Romans 14.7-8
Tune: NEW BRITAIN, W. Walker, Southern Harmony, 1835
We needed the Alleluia on our lips, and it was a holy and broken Alleluia at the same time. And perhaps that after all, is what Lent is about, learning to piece together our broken Alleluias in the midst of pain and death and fear. Learning that our broken Alleluias are still music to God's ears.