We buried the Alleluia on February 14th. This was kind of strange doing this on Valentine’s Day, but we made it work.
On this first Sunday of Lent, several children came down the center aisle carrying a banner which had one word on it: Alleluia. The went to the chancel area, folded the banner, and placed it on the floor. They then piled rocks on it. It made an awful sound which echoed through the room. Good sound effects, but later caused some older members to tell me they were concerned the marble had been chipped.
It’s quite a spectacle, really. Having those rocks on the platform in front of the Lord’s Supper table. But, this simple symbol reminds us that there was a period of suffering and sacrifice culminating in the death of Jesus. It’s not a very attractive sight. It doesn’t seem to fit up there with all the other beautiful candles, tables, pulpits, and stained glass. But, I guess that’s the entire point.
I didn’t grow up in churches that recognized the Lenten season. At the time, I didn’t know what I was missing. As I got older, however, this commemoration became important to me after I got beyond the “this isn’t Baptist” kind of thinking. I was thankful to be in churches that introduced me to this season.
I’m not sure why the Southern Baptist churches I grew up in didn’t talk about Lent, but I suspect it had to do with the fear of looking too much like a Catholic church. Southern Baptists tended to stay to themselves.
Fortunately, I’m in a spot now that doesn’t worry about that too much. It’s more important to embrace our unity as brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ across denominational lines. Christians should come together to worship and remember the One who suffered and died for our sins.
Lent should help us slow down a little bit. I think that’s important. As I said, growing up the main (and only) emphasis was Easter Sunday. There wasn’t a build up or preparation or explanation to why this Sunday was so significant. We avoided talking about death or “from dust you are, and from dust you shall return.” There certainly wasn’t any notice of Ash Wednesday (I do remember hearing criticisms of Mardi Gras and to stay away from what was going on in the Big Easy). Anyway, it seemed like we fast forwarded through all the suffering of Jesus in order to get to the good part–the resurrection. Of course, that is the main and most important thing, but what about death, sorrow, and loss?
Lore Ferguson wrote an article entitled, “When Doubt is More than Just a Season” which appeared in Christianity Today. She writes, “Christian culture has groomed me to believe that as sure as spring, summer, autumn, and winter, my spiritual life operates in seasons. Elation. Joy, Discouragement. Fear. Worship. Obedience. Death.Life. During extended times of doubt, someone is always ready to tell me, ‘This is just a season, wait it out!’ But are they right?”
If for no other reason, we ought to recognize Lent as a season in which we can acknowledge our disappointment and pain. It’s okay to do this. I find it helpful in relating to my own disappointments and attempting to help others who are wrestling with their own kind of pain. It might be uncomfortable, and may be tempting to skip it all to get to Easter Sunday. But, slowing down helps us marinate our difficulties in the context of what Jesus experienced. We can embrace his humanity and be thankful for it as well.
So, we’re going to leave the Alleluia buried. We know what’s coming, but let’s not miss out on some powerful lessons about disappointment and pain. And, let’s be thankful for the “man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.”