Can You Say HALLELUJAH?
Easter Sunday, April 12, 2009
Rev. Jane Page
At our story time, we often share the stories that inspired the celebration of the holidays and holy days for the world’s major religions. So, last year I decided that on Easter Sunday I would share…..the Christian Easter Story for the “Story for all Ages.” Now I was careful to include all of the usual disclaimers – telling the children and adults that this Bible story, like many of the others we have told, was an old story that had been told by many people before some folks decided to write it down. And the written down versions in the Bible had some differences as well – so that like other old stories from the Bible and many other religious texts, we were not sure which part of it may have really happened or not. But that we could always learn something from these stories. And then I began to tell the story of this great teacher Jesus and what his followers had told about his death and what some later told about his resurrection. After I completed the first sentence or two of the story, a little girl sitting near the front said softly – “but that didn’t really happen.” I went on with the story – and her phrase became a little refrain that would be lifted up by her throughout the rest of the story. “But that didn’t really happen…. But that didn’t really happen….but that didn’t really happen.” I smiled in acceptance of her critique and kept going each time. And we made it through the story just fine.
You know – I later thought about this little girl and that she was reflecting my own refrain about this story through much of my life. Well, not when I was HER age – but rather when I an adult – especially in my 30’s and 40’s. Perhaps like her, I didn’t really even want to HEAR that story – because I could not believe it REALLY happened, and therefore I felt I had no use for it in my life. I much preferred to think of Easter as a time for renewal – a springtime celebration. But as some of you know (if you have heard or read my sermon, “Can You Say RESURRECTION?”), this resurrection story became a comforting metaphor for me later in life as I discovered that in our darkest times – when we feel that we are in a tomb, we can listen for that stone to move, and see that crack of light – and know for us that Easter will come.
The original Christian resurrection story emerged from a dark time in the lives of the apostles. Their spiritual leader and best friend and been killed on a cross. They were devastated. But something happened to them in that upper room. They experienced together that transforming living spirit – that connection that many of us sing about regardless of our theologies, and they knew that their lives could be better with that connection – that living spirit which they interpreted as the risen Christ. The early Christians began the celebration of the resurrection to coincide with the pagan Easter holiday – and they have been singing and rejoicing at Easter ever since. And one of their favorite words of rejoicing through the centuries has been HALLELUJAH!
The name of this sermon is: Can you say HALLELUJAH? Did you know that the word “Hallelujah” occurs only four times in the Bible. It means “Praise the Lord” or “Praise Yahweh.” The H precedes the phrase in Hebrew while the Greek word is “Alleluia.” If you include the times that words meaning Praise Yahweh or Praise the Lord are used in the Psalms – then you find it 16 times altogether (still not as many as you might think). So its greater use and popularity came later and it has since been used as a word to praise, rejoice, and celebrate – regardless of one’s theology.
I submitted the title for this sermon some time back – then realized as the time approached that it might not be the best of times to “say” Hallelujah.
After all, we are in the worst economic crisis – many say – since the Great Depression. And we’ve recently seen so much meaningless violence in our nation and the world. We’ve also had lots of folks in our own congregation who have recently experienced deaths in their families as well as critical illnesses. Can we say HALLELUJAH? Yes We Can – for we are indeed blessed in many ways. And when difficult times occur – it’s okay and normal to take time to feel the pain, but we also need to listen for that stone moving, and look for those cracks of light – focus on them and celebrate the good things in our lives. Hallelujah!
So I wrote an email to our listserv earlier this week and asked for you to share some of those good things with me. And many of you identified events or special happenings that stimulated you to rejoice in recent times. So now I’m going to share some of these on this Easter Sunday so that we can all rejoice together. And how should we rejoice? – By saying “Hallelujah.”
Some of you reflected on how this recession has actually stimulated more joy for you. Here’s one quote:
Some of the personal benefits I've experienced because of the recession are related to deeply appreciating the small things in life. I'm much more content with a simpler life these days….. I've also found that I'm a much more creative cook. In "better times" I would plan out a menu for the week & then shop according to the recipes. Now I make a list based on the specials at the grocery store & create new dishes each night using the items that I now have "on hand." It's way more fun, and there's no anxiety having to follow a recipe. And to that love of simplicity and joy of kitchen creativity, we celebrate with you by saying ____ Hallelujah.
One of you had a very long trip to make this week. And you shared some data that helped you along the way. You said:
Traffic fatalities in 2008 were the same as in 1961 thanks to people driving a little less, seat belts, and much better made cars. Gasoline is also cheaper than in 1961 when adjusted for inflation. So driving today is cheaper, safer, more comfortable and with far more radio stations to choose from. And I’m VERY HAPPY to say that this very special person made it back safe and sound from Pennsylvania with his two children Thursday afternoon – and we can all rejoice with him by saying: _____Hallelujah!
Another of you wrote to say:
Our rejoicing will come in May with the arrival of our second son - thus completing our family. I also rejoice at self-imposed "poverty". I have found that all the "stuff" we are doing without pales in comparison to the time I get to spend watching and participating in our son(s) growing up… A new appreciation for life, love, and happiness has and is growing around these two boys. And to that new appreciation – we say: _________Hallelujah!
Another of you shared your joy in your work – all three jobs that you have! In fact, your business is doing well enough that you’ve actually hired your ex-husband to help out! WOW – I suppose to that we have to all say:___ Hallelujah!
Some of you shared your joy with recent decisions legalizing same sex marriage in Iowa and Vermont. The tide is finally turning – and we join those waves of justice by shouting:_________ Hallelujah!
We had word very recently that two of you passed certification exams – and we say: ______Hallelujah
One of you defended your master’s thesis this week
– and your friends toasted you with: ____________Hallelujah.
I heard that one of you recently received the multicultural advisor of the year award and certainly deserve a _______Hallelujah!
At least three of you are receiving degrees or diplomas next month – and YOU and your teachers and advisors and family members all should say: ___________Hallelujah!
And many of you can’t help but rejoice at our renewed hope in the country’s leadership. One of you identified three reasons to rejoice. And – you know folks – you may not ALL agree with these – I’m just reading them – but if you do, you know what to say:
1. I rejoice that our President is an involved, compassionate, intelligent, and articulate leader. __________Hallelujah!
2. I rejoice that the current administration believes that global warming is an actual phenomenon and that they will be taking an active role at home and abroad to work on this serious problem. __________ Hallelujah!
3. I rejoice that our President AND "Mighty Michelle" were so well-received on their recent trip abroad. ________Hallelujah!
I’ll add to those points this recent AP headline story:
Cheered wildly by U.S. troops, President Barack Obama flew unannounced into Iraq on Tuesday and promptly declared it was time for Iraqis to "take responsibility for their country" after America's commitment of six years and thousands of lives. And we join the celebration of those troops by shouting: ________Hallelujah!
The most feedback that I received was related to the joy that many of you feel about connecting with friends and family. So many of you have the amazing grace to realize that your time spent with family and friends is SO very precious. Yes, you are treasuring and savoring each moment with your children, your grandchildren, your parents and partners, other family members, neighbors, your precious pets and very special friends – and this fellowship! We cherish our relationships and rejoice by saying: _______Hallelujah!
I thought that I had received all the feedback from my email request that I was going to get – then I received one more Wednesday evening. This email brought me back to spring and Easter and our reasons to sing and rejoice together. Here is a quote from that email:
The orchid my son gave me last Mother's Day bloomed until November when he entered the hospital. Then it rested without blooming until the morning of March 2nd when he died. By that afternoon it had 6 buds ready to open. For my heart that was the beginning of spring & the true meaning of Easter.
And you know folks – That REALLY did happen!
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, ____Hallelujah!