Easter Alleluia

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John 15: 1-8

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Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God.  He who does not love does not know God; for God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.  In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No man has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.

A Broken Alleluia in Worship

            An Easter Alleluia is a broken Alleluia.  The Alleluia of Easter, sung in worship, awaited in history, and made flesh in your precious life, is ever a broken one.  The resurrection follows the cross, but the resurrection does not replace it. We walk by faith not by sight.  We have this treasure in earthen vessels. We hope for what we do not see. And what we do see is what we see in a mirror—dimly.  We need not over-preach, even in the glorious season of Easter. An Easter Alleluia is broken Alleluia.  The Alleluia of Easter, sung in worship, awaited in community, and made flesh in life, is ever a broken one.  The resurrection follows the cross, but the resurrection does not replace it.  Can you sing a broken alleluia?

            For here we are, just for a moment, in worship.  Singing the hymns of Easter.  Hearing the Easter word.  There’s a blaze of light in every word.

            For a moment, move by the imagination to a borrowed upper room, say in Ephesus.  Candles burn.  A meal has been offered and received.  There is among the fifty, say, there present, a gradual settling, a quiet.  It may be a long quiet, starting from that late first century numinous circle and ending—here, now.   Acute pain abides in this circle, the pain of the loss of a beloved leader, the pain of the loss of a venerable religious tradition, the pain of the loss of a prized eschatological hope—love, faith, and hope, lost. Broken.

            Yet as the circle settles, a prayer and reading and a further silence and a long hymn sung, ALL Who has held them SPEAKS.  In the silence and in the singing and in then the antiphonal, mournful and joyful, worship antiphon.

            A verbal, spoken, uttered opening upon Ultimate Reality.

            How shall they call upon him in whom they have not believed…?

            I am…light, life, resurrection, way, truth, Good Shepherd, door, bread, water.

            I am…the true vine. You shall know…’the truth’.  That they may know Thee the only ‘true’ God.

            Every heart has secret sorrows.  Every land has cavernous grief. For the antiphonal, ancient singers of our scriptural broken alleluia, the hurts are dislocation, disappointment and departure.

            Antiphon: ‘Abide in me…As I abide in you’.  Stay. Remain.  Settle.  Dig in. Locate.  Vines take a long time to grow.  But so?More than any other living scholar, John Ashton (The Gospel of John and Christian Origins) has pierced the meaning of this passage, and others like it. 

            Ashton: John’s portrait of Jesus arose from his constant awareness, which he shared with members of his community, that they were living in the presence of the Glorified One.  So dazzling was this glory, that any memory of a less-than-glorious Christ was altogether eclipsed.

            Ashton: ’The fear and anger of the Johannine community, as they see themselves exiled from the synagogue by those they call the Jews, is…projected back upon the life of Jesus’…’They had a burning conviction that they had been given the truth (led into all truth) and that through this truth they would come to enjoy a freedom that would release them from the constraints to which they were subjected: ‘the truth will set you free’’(95)

            Ashton: Conscious as they were of the continuing presence in their midst of the Glorified One, no wonder the community, or rather the evangelist who was its chief spokesman, smoothed out the rough edges of the traditions of the historical Jesus and expanded the points into stars. (They) realized that the truth that they prized as the source of their new life was to be identified not with the Jesus of history but with the risen and glorious Christ, and that this was a Christ free from all human weakness.  The claims they made for him were at the heart of the new religion that soon came to be called Christianity. (199)  The difference between John’s portrait of Christ and that of the Synoptists is best accounted for by the experience of the glorious Christ constantly present to him and his community (204)

            Ashton:  Some in the Johannine community spoke in the voice of Jesus.  Especially this is so in the ‘I Am’ sayings.  If Jesus on earth did not say these things who did?  Answer:  the Johannine prophet (s).

            Can you sing a broken alleluia?  Every hymn, for all its joy, carries a guttural memory of acute hurt.  In worship, can you sing for joy without forgetting the brokenness out of which that alleluia comes?  Let Charles Wesley, let Charles Tindley, let the poor of your past guide you.

A Broken Alleluia in History

            Or what about your place in history, our communal responsibility in real time?  A surface glide across Holy Scripture will not allow, cannot provide gospel insight.  You want to sift the Scriptures.  You want to know them inside and out, upside and down, through and through and through, and then, it may be, by happenstance or grace or the clumsy luck of a very human preacher, you may hear a steadying, saving word.  Look back an Easter month. There’s a blaze of light in every word. Not activism alone, but engagement matter most in history.

            Through this Easter season, Easter tide, you have perhaps noticed, noted, or winced to hear the letter of John, 1 John, amending, redacting, muting and amplifying the gospel of John.  You are keen listeners, practiced and adroit, so you will have wondered a bit about this. Why does 1 John nip at the heels of John?

      The two ‘books’ are written by different authors, in different decades, in different circumstances, with different motives.  The Gospel acclaims Spirit.  The Letter adds in work, ethics, morals, community, tradition, leadership and judgment from on high, rather than judgment by belief and by believer.  We may just have, it is important to say, the Gospel as part of the New Testament, with all its radicality, due to its brother named letter, vouching as it were for the sanity of the Gospel.  The letter, like James Morrison Witherby George Dupree, takes good care of its Gospel mother, the very cat’s mother, you see.  Milne:  James James

Morrison Morrison

Weatherby George Dupree

Took great

Care of his Mother

Though he was only three.

James James

Said to his Mother,

“Mother,” he said, said he;

“You must never go down to the end of the town, if

you don’t go down with me.”

            On April 8, the Gospel in chapter 20 revealed the Spirit, elsewhere called Paraclete or Advocate, come upon us, received and with it received the forgiveness of sins.  But at the heels, nipping, comes along 1 John in chapter 2, which names the Paraclete or Advocate not as Spirit but as Jesus Christ—the righteous—whose commandments all are to keep, on pain of disobedience become lying, and truth taken flight.  Both read on the same Sunday, within minutes of each other, even as they face each other with daggers drawn.

            On April 15, the Gospel still lingering with the Lord and God risen, the letter in Chapter 3, on the qui vive and on the attack, spells out again in no uncertain terms that the righteous do the right, handsome is as handsome does. Both read on the same Sunday, within minutes of each other, even as they face each other with daggers drawn.

            On April 22, the Gospel in chapter 10 acclaiming the pastoral image of the Good Shepherd, whose one glorification on the cross is meant to obliterate the need of any other such, the letter, worried, worries out in chapter 3, a long and sorry recollection of Cain—Abel’s one-time brother—and the demands of love from one who laid down his life, and with whom and for whom we are then meant to do something of the same.  ‘Let us not love in word and speech but in deed and truth’, says 1 John 3, when the whole of the Gospel says the opposite, that words outlast deeds, and that speech, that of the glorious Risen, ever routs works. Both read on the same Sunday, within minutes of each other, even as they face each other with daggers drawn.

            And now today, April 29, when and where our one Great Gospel, the Spiritual Gospel, counsels ‘abide’ and ‘remain’ in chapter 15, just here the letter of 1 John in chapter 4, fearing antinomial abandon, frolicking, deadly afraid that someone somewhere might be at peace or, worse, having fun, appends to his own most beautiful love poem, the charge again of lying, of lack of love of brother, of schism that surely created this letter, 1 John, as the spiritualists and the traditionalists, the Gnostics and the ethicists, parted company, one toward the free land of Montanus and Marcion, the other toward Rome and the emerging church, victorious, against which the Gospel was born, bred, written and preached. Both read on the same Sunday, within minutes of each other, even as they face each other with daggers drawn.

            Of course, both are right.  Or we would not still need or read them, let alone together.  But you are right, too, to feel some neck pain, some whiplash, as Gospel soars and Letter deflates.  It is as if the Song of Solomon is being sung by Obededom.

            The blessed Scripture bears incontrovertible, conflicted witness.  Easter is a broken Alleluia, and was so already 20 centuries ago, as the resurrection cross of Jesus was raised up, in mournful joy, in a real joy made real by its honesty about sorrow.  History is endless contention and intractable difference, including religious history, perhaps especially including religious history.

            You then, in real time, as we read the newspaper as well as the Bible.  You have reason and obligation to be concerned about what you read. You have reason and obligation to be concerned about the persons and personalities driving cultural and political formation. You also have reason and obligation to be concerned about the policies, speaking of polis,which emanate from those personalities and persons, those forms of rhetoric and language and behavior. You have full reason and obligation to be concerned about public good, about the polis, about the forms of culture and civil society across our land, painstakingly built up over 250 years, that are not government and not politics, but are more fundamental and more fragile than both.

            There may well come a time, for you, as a person of faith, to say something or do something, a time when some somewhat risky and uncomfortable mode of social involvement will beckon you.  There’s a blaze of light in every word.

 A Broken Alleluia in Ljfe

            The more ample capacity of our northern neighbors to live in dialectic, including an Easter one, may help us today.

            Montreal self-deprecating Canada joke:  Montreal could have had the best of all worlds—British culture, American government and French cuisine; instead it got American culture, French government and British cuisine.  When you cross the border there are questions:  What is your name?  Where are you from?  Where are you going?  Do you have anything to declare?  Can you sing a broken Easter alleluia?  There’s a blaze of light in every word.

            On the Canadian border, Jan, 1982 or 3, after the 9am service: ‘Was that an Easter sermon?’  We tried unsuccessfully to raise it from the dead before 11am.  A broken alleluia.

         And speaking of Montreal, Leonard Cohen, said of his broken alleluia: “It explains that many kinds of hallelujahs doexist, and all the perfect and broken hallelujahs have equal value.I wanted to push the Hallelujah deep into the secular world, into the ordinary world.”  John was there before him, by 20 centuries. There’s a blaze of light in every word.

            You can’t get very close to Jesus (or Martin King or Howard Thurman or John the Divine) without prayer, hymnody, meditation, reading, study, Scripture, worship, preaching—RELIGION.

            Hear the Gospel!  Christ is Risen, absent and present, waiting to be heard at bedside above the rancorous cacophony about, shorn of his burial clothes, speaking to and through the spiritual confusion, the spiritual Alzheimer’s affliction of life.   There’s a blaze of light in every word.  Word broken or word holy.

            Now, I’ve heard there was a secret chord

That David played, and it pleased the Lord

But you don’t really care for music, do you?

It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth

The minor fall, the major lift

The baffled king composing hallelujah

Hallelujah

 You say I took the name in vain

I don’t even know the name

But if I did, well really, what’s it to you?

There’s a blaze of light in every word

It doesn’t matter which you heard

The holy or the broken hallelujah

Hallelujah 

I did my best, it wasn’t much

I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch

I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you

And even though it all went wrong

I’ll stand before the lord of song

With nothing on my tongue but hallelujah

Hallelujah

The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean of Marsh Chapel

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