Dear Hyde Park Family,
Last Sunday was among the most alarming mornings of my career. With each passing worship service, reports from Orlando were getting progressively more horrifying. And the meaning of the sermon that I had written several days prior became more sobering every time I preached it. By the 11 a.m. traditional service, after I had preached on 1 Kings 19 for the third and final time, it was as if we were all with Elijah, huddled in that cave out of fear and exhaustion. I had never before had the meaning of a sermon evolve so quickly in real-time.
When I sat down in the chancel after that sermon, the choir began its offertory anthem, a rendition of James Chepponis’ Festival Alleluia. It was festive, bright, and jubilant – – all qualities that felt completely antithetical to the mood of the moment. But just as I was ready to tune it out, I began to listen more carefully to the words:
Alleluia! In my distress do I search, I search, for you. God, where are You?
Alleluia! Not in earthquake wind or fire, but in a voice still I hear, I hear.
Alleluia! May I ever be present O God to listen to your voice, O Lord, O Lord.
Alleluia! O thanks and praise to God, for he speaks to us still. Praise the Lord, the Lord!
At first blush, Alleluia may seem like a terribly inappropriate response in the midst of crisis. Why sing “Alleluia” (literally, “Praise the Lord”) when all external evidence suggests otherwise?
However, we remember that the biblical instances of Alleluia are most concentrated in two places in the Bible where suffering and misery are most prevalent. The first is in the Psalms, specifically chapters 113-118 and 146-150. Here, the psalmists remind the people of the various ways that God has conquered oppression, illness, affliction, slavery and distress. God has not ignored human suffering, but has entered into the midst of it and vanquished it. The second is in Revelation, in which Alleluia occurs four times. Here, first century Christians are reminded to sing joyfully of God’s power, even in the presence of intense persecutions by the Roman empire.
The biblical evidence is clear: even in midst of tragedy, we can sing of God’s power to draw near to us and help us face wickedness with courage. Singing Alleluia does not deny evil’s existence, but confidently claims God’s power to overcome it. And, it pledges our own cooperation with God, to wage war against evil through our own acts of solidarity and love.
In the wake of tragedy, we can sing together a defiant alleluia.
And that is what we have seen over these past few days:
- In the long lines on Sunday at the blood mobile on our church property, where people arrived all afternoon to make a donation. Maybe your defiant alleluia will be to contribute some of your own.
- In the stirring crowds of thousands of people gathering for vigils in our area and all throughout the country. Maybe your defiant alleluia will be to reach out in love and concern for those around you, particularly to those with whom you disagree.
- In the renewed, aggressive call people are making for common sense legislation to keep the wrong kinds of guns away from the wrong kinds of people. There have now been 1,000 mass shootings in the past 1,260 days, roughly five days out of every six. Enough is enough. Maybe your defiant alleluia will be to contact our elected officials to urge them to bring a healthy debate to Congress, unswayed by powerful gun lobbyists.
- In the beautiful words and gestures of love being extending to members of the LGBT community, whose long endurance of discrimination warrants compassion and solidarity. Maybe your defiant alleluia will be to reach out in comfort and support of someone you know who is gay, or struggling with their own gender identity.
- In the powerful moments of ecumenical and interfaith camaraderie displayed among religious leaders and communities, such as this statement by Bishop Robert Lynch of the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg, and a stirring interfaith service including United Methodists in Orlando. Maybe your defiant alleluia will be to pray for peaceful expressions of religious conviction, including our own, that we might not become the very evil that we attempt to overcome.
In the end, Alleluia is not only a fitting response. It is the best response to violence and injustice, for it claims God’s power and calls us to action. Let us be comforted, and then compelled, in the wake of tragedy.
The Rev. Magrey deVega
Senior Pastor, Hyde Park United Methodist