Easter Sunday—April 24, 2011
Christ is risen indeed Alleluia!
Alleluia is one of those magical words in the Bible. Like Amen, it needs no translation. It is impossible to say without feeling joyful – no matter the nature of your belief. It can mean happiness. It relates to the inspiration of discovery. It can refer to the end of a long journey. And all those definitions apply today. Directly translated, amen means “so be it.” It is the sign off to our prayer and leaves us with the sense that things now reside in the hands of God. Alleluia is literally a word of praise and embrace for God. But it runs so much deeper than that. We bury our Alleluias, so to speak, for Lent, not because we put on hold our praise for God. We are ritually placing ourselves in anticipation of Easter, putting ourselves in a state of contemplation for what is to come. Alleluia is a word that suggests celebration, but also abandon. It is a word that implies action, a moving forward, energy. Alleluia! What’s next? Alleluia! What now? Alleluia! Let’s get going!
Certainly, our gospel this morning doesn’t stand still for us. There are all kinds of dashing and discoveries, chance encounters and moving forward. Mary Magdalene and the women go down to the tomb, only to find the stone pulled away and the body gone. An angel tells them not to worry, but to spread the word to the disciples. Go quickly, the angel says. Send them to Galilee. The women, we are told, hurry off. Suddenly, we hear, Jesus appears to them. Do not be afraid. And he repeats the directions to send everyone to Galilee. Why the urgency? Of course, there were practical implications here: staying in Jerusalem would have been dangerous for the disciples, who were so closely aligned to Jesus. Galilee was a safer haven, the place where Jesus’s ministry began, and where many of his miracles were conducted. It was there that the disciples could most safely regroup and begin the next step of their ministry. As well, there was a desire not to lose the momentum brought about by the work of Jesus in the stasis of grief. He didn’t want the disciples to get mired down in loss. He wanted them to get moving. This was not an Amen moment. He wanted them to pull an Alleluia!
Recently, when I spoke at a conference on generosity, I was gifted with a mug that said “Prayer changes everything.” That’s a good message, on one level, I suppose. But what does it really mean? How does that fit into our Easter story? Certainly, the idea of prayer changing our lives is an essential ingredient of faith. But “changing everything”? That’s a lot to ask, isn’t it? In fact, it sounds to me, a bit like leaving Easter morning, saying “So be it. That’s that. It’s in God’s hands now. Amen.”
Now I don’t think you can ever have too many conversations with God, or your inner voice of faith, and most of the time, we don’t pause to have them when we most need them. But if we take that line from the mug literally, is it saying that folding your hands, and saying a few words to God, reciting by rote the phrases to “Now I lay me down to sleep,” changes everything? I don’t think so. That’s faith sold short. I think it’s more appropriate to say that prayer changes US.
The strength of prayer comes from what we do with it, and how well we listen to it. It is the action we take from it. It is the first step. If our house is on fire, praying for God to put it out isn’t likely to solve your problem. Because, I’d bet that God would be the first one to respond to your prayer with a few words of advice: “Get out, you fool!” Often prayer helps us to hear the answer in our own words, in our side of the conversation, a real example of our faith guiding us to truth, or God speaking through us. But we have to do something with it. Amen is like getting an assessment of the facts. God is with us. Our faith will guide us. So be it.
But Alleluia – now that’s that word to get us off our knees. That’s the word that sends Mary and the women hurrying away from the tomb. The word that carried the disciples all the way to Galilee. If Amen is truth, than Alleluia is inspiration. And that is what Easter is for us as Christians: the inspiration of “What now? What next? Let’s get going!” The transformation of an ending into a beginning. The transformation of a death into a resurrection. From Amen to Alleluia!
So what now? What next? The disciples, having really no idea what was coming, set off at Jesus’s direction. They could not fathom the faith that their work and sacrifice would build. It’s the same with us: we don’t know what’s next either. But we all know that if we sit on our knees, waiting around, nothing will happen at all. Instead, let’s be practical. Consider carefully what is wrong with a broken relationship and find at least one small way to try to mend it. Amen to Alleluia. If you feel unhappy, make a list of what is at the root of that unhappiness, and try to do the opposite. Amen to Alleluia. And if life is great, then don’t make the mistake of taking it for granted; don’t dwell in your own Easter Amen. Make sure you know what it is about life that is good and work to hold on to it. That’s Alleluia.
How easy would it have been on that first Easter Sunday to fall into despair! Their leader, their teacher, their saviour, was gone – at least as far as they understood it. The authorities were out to persecute them. An angry mob could still turn on them. It would have been smart business to bundle up all the teachings of Jesus and hide themselves away with them, waiting for safer days. But at great risk to themselves, Mary and the women and the disciples chose to keep following Jesus. They made the Alleluias of Easter matter.
So this Easter, and from now on, let’s us all do the same. Learn from the Amen. God loves us. God stands with us. God has risen in a message of hope. But live the Alleluia! Be inspired.
Christ is risen indeed. Amen. And joyfully, Alleluia!