A funny thing happened on the way to Mass on Saturday morning…
Unbeknownst to the regulars in the 8:30 congregation, all three of our parish priests were otherwise occupied—so we celebrated with a communion service instead of the regularly-scheduled Eucharistic feast. And that’s when it happened: As we stood to hear the Gospel proclaimed, our deacon intoned the acclamation verse with a familiar setting of three ‘Alleluias.’
I’m not sure whether it was a force-of-habit foible…or an intentional choice on the deacon’s part…but I do know this: It sounded really odd to hear those ‘Alleluias’ today, as we begin the Second Week of Lent. And it felt odder still to join the congregation by responding in kind.
‘Alleluias,’ after all, are one of things that good Catholics around the world are supposed to give up for Lent. Beginning on Ash Wednesday…and continuing right on through to Good Friday…we replace them at the time of the Gospel Acclamation with ‘Glory and praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ’ or something similar.
As I meditated a bit on this morning’s ‘Allelu-shock’, though, it began to resonate as more of a blessing than a mistake.
I’d just come to the communion service from my early-morning faith sharing group—where we’d been breaking open the Word, and wrestling a bit with the readings we’ll hear at Mass on Sunday morning. The first reading, from Genesis, is particularly troubling to our modern hearts—recounting the story of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son Isaac. Why would God put Abraham to such a test in the first place, the guys in the faith-sharing group wondered. And it’s a great question, if you think about it. It’s not at all how you’d expect a loving God to act.
Sunday’s Gospel—Mark’s account of the transfiguration of Jesus—can be hard to wrap your head around, as well. What exactly was Jesus saying to Moses and Elijah on the mountaintop? And why on earth would he enjoin the three witnesses not to tell anyone about the experience until much later?
It was with those (and other) questions still roiling my mind and heart that I experienced this morning’s liturgical quirk in church. And it occurred to me—in the wake of the Allelu-shock—that we humans often get things wrong in our efforts to forge or deepen our relationship with the Lord. Like Peter, we want to set up a tent…so that we can stay a bit longer on the mountaintop. Or like Abraham, we want prove our devotion with sacrifices that go beyond the pale.
It turns out, though, that our ‘doing’ is not what seals or strengthens the relationship with God. We are not the initiators, God is—a point St. Paul impresses upon us in the passage from his letter to the Romans that we’ll hear on Sunday.
If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him?
So often, our instinct is to try to earn God’s love and mercy and forgiveness. Which is to say, we want to be driving the bus. But that’s not really what God asks of us.
Christ came to show us that God has a much better deal in mind. And the more you meditate on the actual terms of God’s covenant, the more it makes your heart want to sing ‘Allelu-SHHH!’
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy One.