Psalm 148 – Laudate Dominum
On the last Sunday of Epiphany, we are already looking around the corner to Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. The church can usually turn itself on a dime when going from one season to another. For example, Advent begins around the first of December and runs through Christmas Eve. During that time things are quiet, hopeful, and with a low-key busyness beneath the surface (usually focused on making the “perfect” Christmas). But come Christmas Eve and the first service of Christmas, all that changes and the service is one of the most glorious times of the liturgical year. Ash Wednesday is somewhat the same. Shrove Tuesday, the day before, it’s eat, drink, and be merry, but come midnight, all of it changes, even on the wild streets of New Orleans. The end of Mardi Gras is the beginning of Lent, and with the ringing of church bells at midnight, the merriment stops.
One of the things about the beginning of Lent is that regular attendees and sometimes newcomers, find themselves tripping over one small word in the liturgy. For the first several weeks, it’s not uncommon to hear someone say “Al-” before they recollect that we don’t say “Alleluia” during Lent any more than we do during Advent. The church doesn’t use joyful expressions like “Alleluia” or “Hallelujah” during those two seasons of expectation and repentance. Still, when someone forgets, and the first syllable or two comes out loud in church, people smile and remember that sometime in the past they have probably done the same thing.
I think it’s appropriate on this last Sunday of Epiphany to have three songs of praise on the Daily Office. Psalm 148 is one of my favorites and is one that both begins and ends with the word “Hallelujah!” with an exclamation point. It’s meant to be emphasized and to be shouted joyfully, not mumbled or glossed over. Following the Alleluia in the Psalm, lists begin with hierarchies of the creation, from the angels and the heavenly host, moving down through various classes of those who should praise God.
Praise should come from the sun and the moon, shining stars, and the waters above the heavens. It’s no secret that for many, observing celestial bodies are causes for awe and wonder, amazement and reverence, especially now since we have very powerful telescopes and satellites who expand the vistas of the cosmos in all their immensity and splendor.
The earth should praise the Lord, from the sea monsters and everything in the deeps beyond which even we with our modern and highly technical abilities have not yet been able to reach. Phenomena like fire and hail, snow and fog, storms and winds doing his will are enjoined to praise the Lord. I know it’s hard for some people who have been snowbound in trains and buildings and cars and who wonder when it is going to stop. For those who experienced the devastation of wildfires this past summer might not see the fire as something to praise the Lord, but it is possible to consider looking at the power of the flames and realize that it’s only a tiny fraction of the power of God.
The Psalm goes on to the wild beasts and cattle, creeping things and winged birds, kings of the earth and all peoples, young men and maidens, old and young, with the injunction to let them praise the Lord for God’s name only is exalted and God’s splendor is over the earth and heaven. The psalmist does not include a lot of categories that we in modern times classify people or animals. But regardless, all of us are all children of God, irrespective of the name which we give to God. We don’t consider the whales who sing or the elephants who communicate over long distances and whose sense of community is almost unparalleled. Kings often consider themselves gods, but they only fool themselves. Ordinary people are not always paragons of virtue either, but they should recognize that the love of God extends to all people regardless of race, creed, orientation, ethnicity, or any other box into which other humans would put them. God’s kingdom doesn’t have boxes.
The Psalm ends with another Hallelujah! as if gathering up all of the names and characteristics that have been spelled out in the Psalm itself and readies them for a final shout of glory. It’s an invitation to praise and to acknowledge that there is a being who cares for us and loves us and wants us to love in return. So on this final Sunday of Alleluia, at least for the next six weeks or so, let’s put the auditory Alleluia away and keep it in our hearts. We can pray and praise without them, but we should never forget they are waiting just around the corner. The spirit that Alleluia represents should always be present whether spoken or unspoken.
So goodbye, Alleluia, at least for a while. Welcome Lent, that reminder of Jesus’s humanity and revelation of his glory so that his teachings would spread throughout all the earth.
May you have a blessed Lent.
Image: No Allelujah, created by author.
Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for an Education for Ministry group, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter. She is also owned by three cats.