Thursday, 9 April 2015

Meditation: WE NEED EASTER by John de Gruchy


Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude...crying out

Many years ago Isobel and I spent a year at Princeton Theological Seminary.  I taught some courses, and on one occasion was invited to preach in the seminary chapel.  One of my students came to me prior to the service and asked whether he could shout out "Hallelujah" from time to time during my sermon for that was, he said, the custom in his church.  When the congregation enthusiastically agreed with the preacher, he said, people spontaneously cried out "Hallelujah," the Hebrew word for "Praise the Lord!"  Now I was accustomed to this because in my younger days I had attended worship services where this was normal practice.  But it was, at least at that time, something seldom done, if done at all, in the more sober and conservative Presbyterian environment of the Princeton seminary chapel.  I told him I had no objection and thought no more about it.  That is, until I was preaching, when all of a sudden I heard a loud "Hallelujah" shouted out from somewhere near the back of the chapel.  This was repeated several times during my sermon to the consternation of some in the congregation. But I was also a little taken aback, not because he shouted out "Hallelujah!" but because he seemed to be doing so at inappropriate times.  For example, if I said something like ":the world is in a very sorry mess," or "tragedy strikes people when they least expect it," he would shout "Hallelujah!"  But that was surely not something to praise the Lord about.

During Lent, as you well know, we refrain from crying out "Hallelujah" at the end of our service.  There are two main reasons for this.  The first is because our focus during Lent is on the cost of discipleship, on the journey to the cross.  Traditionally it is the season for repentance.  Nothing to cheer about.  But every reason to shout out "Aha!" as we remember that we are called to serve others and acknowledge that we often fail to do so. "Aha" is, if you like, a call to change our way of living in relation to those who are poor. A good and necessary discipline during Lent, and, of course, throughout the year.  

The second reason is that shouting out Hallelujah can just become a meaningless formality if we keep on saying it without thinking about what we are doing.  It becomes inappropriate.  It is like shouting out the word, as my student did, at the inappropriate time.  Of course, we can shout our "Hallelujah!" throughout the year, during Lent as well if we want to.  We do not stop praising the Lord in Lent.  But by refraining to do so for a period we come to appreciate its meaning again.  When Easter comes there is something very special to cheer about.  "Hallelujah" becomes the appropriate response to the good news that "Christ is risen!"  Then the Hallelujah chorus demands to be sung.  The time comes when, without forgetting "Aha!" we need to cry out "Hallelujah!" once again.   We need to affirm that we are Easter people, people who live in the light and the hope of the Easter message.  "Christ is risen! Hallelujah!"  Yes, we need Easter as Isobel wrote in a poem some years ago:

Lord, I see the beauty of your world,
the sparkling turquoise of the sea,
the solid mass of the mountains,
the fragile loveliness of a flower,
and I can praise you.

But there is that other ugly world
that frightens me -
it overwhelms me, renders me helpless:
that world where people are prisoners to poverty,
violence and misery mark the measure of their lives,
they trudge an endless treadmill
without a break – to stop is to fall off
into worse - a dark and bottomless pit.

I can’t bear to hear about it, to think about it.
I don’t know how – do I even care enough? -  to act.
Lord, it is Good Friday – bad Friday - writ large,
Bad Friday, Black Saturday, repeated
endlessly, like the treadmill.

We need Easter, Lord,
send Easter! – to the city’s slums
to the shacks, to the shebeens,
to the country’s desolation,
to the hearts and minds and wills of all.
Break upon our world with Easter.
Break open our world with Easter.

Yes, we need Easter.  We need good news amidst all the bad news that bombards us every day.  We can barely cope sometimes with all the problems we have to deal with day by day, at work or at home, without even thinking about the problems facing us in our society and the world at large.  We need something to shout "Hallelujah" about in dark times when daily there are news reports of mass murders and plane crashes, of friends who are dying of cancer, and corruption in high places, of Christians being slaughtered for their faith.  We need light in the midst of darkness.  We need hope in times when we are driven to despair.

The message of Easter is the good news that death and despair, destruction and darkness, do not have the final say, that there is light at the end of the tunnel, that there is something to cheer about.  This is not easy to believe or do given the circumstances in which many people often find themselves.  Like Thomas we sometimes or even often doubt whether it can be true.  But it is the very foundation on which our Christian faith is based; it is our core belief.  Without Easter there would not, could not be, Christianity.  That is why on Easter day we cry out "Hallelujah" not once but many times, and why every Sunday, indeed, every day from here on through the year we cry our "Hallelujah!" not because it is liturgically correct, but because we need Easter, we need a reason to hope, to believe, to love. 

And so John, at a time when the world was falling apart, when the iron rod of imperial Rome was oppressing the nations, and  when Christians in the Middle East were being persecuted for the first time, had his amazing vision which he describes in the book of Revelation.  When all is said and done, when the victory over evil is finally won, there is, as he sees and describes,, a great multitude crying out "Hallelujah!  For the Lord our God, the Almighty reigns.  Let us rejoice and exult, and give him the glory."

We need Easter, Lord,
send Easter! – to the city’s slums
to the shacks, to the shebeens,
to the country’s desolation,
to the hearts and minds and wills of all.
Break upon our world with Easter.
Break open our world with Easter.

John de Gruchy
Volmoed  9 April 2015

No comments:

Post a Comment