Sacred Soil


Buried Alleluias
October 28, 2012, 10:15 am
Filed under: Sermons

Reformation Sunday

October 28, 2012

Jeremiah 31:31–34
Psalm 46
Romans 3:19–28
John 8:31–36

Three years ago, on this very day, a beautiful bunch of Lutherans gathered at the corner of 24th and Harvey to celebrate their final service in that place. I’m sure it was a day of complicated emotions as they sang the familiar Reformation tunes, remembering the many saints that had been raised up in this place. The weddings, baptisms, funerals. The quiet simplicity during lent, and the joyous and lush celebrations of Christmas. The service ended with procession out, as these beautiful Lutherans left this place with the clinging to the hope that death would lead to new life.

Though I was not there, I will forever cherish the image of Ray, carrying the chalice out. Carrying forward the promise we have in the cup of salvation.

In the coming weeks and months, this group of Lutherans cleaned out building, sorting through decades of cherished items and forgotten projects… cleaning the place out until the building oddly echoed, hallow and empty.

They did a good job–except for that safe that took uncommon strength to open. And for a box stashed away several years ago, forgotten to the bustle of change and other agendas. A box holding banners announcing Alleluia.

They were intended to come out at Easter. I’m not sure if we know which Easter. If you remember, it’s our tradition to put away Alleluia for the 40 days before Easter. The season of Lent. It’s a more solemn season, a time of deep reflection, and so we put away this more jubilant word, so that when it returns we’re once again in awe of its power.

I’m moved by this forgotten box, because I know that for some of us in this room, it has seemed that Lent has lasted a very, very long time. Years. Perhaps for some, decades. Alleluia is unbridled joy. Ebullient and passionate. And there are times where this kind of joy is not possible. Times when Alleluia seems buried far away, sealed with more than just a box.

And there are reasons for this that stretch far beyond the immense difficulty of leaving a sacred home. There are all sorts of reasons that our Alleluias get buried. Grief and loss, frustration, depression. For many of us, alleluia feels strange in our mouths, awkward and stiff. Too many l’s. Too many syllables. Too foreign.

The thing is, the challenge, is that we are tempted, when those Alleluias are buried, we are tempted to believe and behave as if we have failed. We are tempted to lose our identity, allowing ourselves to be swallowed up in grief and despair. Tempted to act as if Alleluia never existed.

Martin Luther himself actually struggled with this. I’m told that at his last sermon, mere months before he died, Martin stood up to preach in his church to an audience of 5. His words echoed around the room, falling coldly on stone and wood. In despair, he wondered, have we failed? Will this reformation pass as a minor page of history? Will people understand what we have tried to do? Who are we?

And yet, we know the story went differently. 500 years later, we gather here inspired by the good work God did through Martin.

And this is why we utter Alleluia, even when the word is awkward in our mouths. Alleluia points to a promise- not something earned or learned. Alleluia points to the promise written on our hearts by our God: the assurance that God will always be our God, and that we will always be God’s people.

  • This is the promise God made to the Israelites as they headed toward a dark and uncertain future.
  • This is the promise God made to the disciples, as they struggled to find their way forward.
  • This is the promise made to you and to me, as the waters of baptism flowed over our heads.

We are first God’s beloved. Called by name, we are God’s beloved before any other identity we might have. Before we are woman, man, mother, father, widow, child, BULC member, First member, Presbyterian, none of the above. Before we are any of these we are God’s beloved. This is what defines us. We are no longer defined by our limits, but by God’s joyful claiming of each of us as a beloved child of God.

On those days, in those years, and decades when our mouths cannot form the word, when Lent has gone on too long, our God who utters the Alleluias. The broken, whisper of alleluia, uttered as an echo of promise. A reminder that possibility is always ahead. The assurance that life wins. It is the song of hope that plays quietly in the background, ready for that moment when our ears can tune to it, when we can hear it.

There is a dissonance in this, a dissonance for we who hold that alleluia beside our grief, along side our pain. It is an odd harmony that we don’t always want to hear–trying to purify our emotions, making them simple and understandable. Yet, if we give into this, such a dissonance risks encouraging us to burry that alleluia, and keep it hidden. To forget about it.

But our God will not let us forget. We cannot forget, for it is written on our hearts. The love of God has claimed us, wholly and holy, for all our complications and doubts. And so we unearth that word, letting it form on our tongues, in fertile hope and the sure promise that God’s love will always raise us to new life.

And so today, we gather here, in this place, at the corner of 31st and Euclid, listening for the harmonies of God’s Alleluia lifting up in this place, letting them resonate against the grief and the hope that rise within us. Grateful also, that this day, on the corner of 24th and Harvey, once again the cries of Alleluia have been released from their box, free to echo through the hearts of a new community as a new day begins for all of us.

Alleluia. Amen.


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