Each weekend my church's Sunday bulletin includes several paragraphs entitled "As We Gather" that highlight the theme of the day as it is drawn from the readings and the liturgical calendar. Today's "As We Gather" reads as follows:
"The Epiphany season ends with Jesus' revelation of His glory to Peter, James, and John on the mount of Transfiguration [Matthew 17:1-9]. Like them, we also see God face to face. Though the fullness of His glory will not be revealed to us until we pass through the gates of death, our hidden God reveals Himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ through His Word and in the Sacraments. This is the same Jesus who revealed Himself to His disciples and journeyed into the valley of sin and death for us, so that through His death we might have life.
This Wednesday the season of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday. During Lent we journey with Jesus to Jerusalem, and experience the glory He reveals to us through His suffering and death for us on the cross. During this time, the Church restrains her praise in anticipation of Christ's great Passover from death into life on Easter morning. As a result, the hymn of praise disappears from the liturgy, and we refrain from singing alleluias."
One of the things that our congregation does to highlight this transition from Epiphany into Lent and to make the observance of Lent more meaningful is to "bury" the alleluias at the end of the service on Transfiguration Sunday. Last week, all of our Sunday School classes up to eighth grade made and decorated butterflies. Each class had its own motif for doing the decorating, and each child had the freedom within that motif to personalize his butterfly, but all the butterflies are alike in that the word "alleluia" is written across the front. Today as worship concluded, the children were invited to come forward and place their butterflies in a wooden chest in front of the altar. During this time the congregation sang the following hymn*:
"Alleluia, song of gladness, voice of joy that cannot die;
Alleluia is the anthem ever raised by choirs on high;
In the house of God abiding thus they sing eternally.
Alleluia cannot always be our song while here below;
Alleluia our transgressions make us for a while forgo;
For the Lententide is coming, when our penitence is renewed.
Therefore in our hymns we pray Thee, grant us, blessed Trinity,
At the last to keep Thine Easter with Thy faithful saints on high;
There to Thee forever singing alleluia joyfully. Amen!"
The alleluia butterflies will remain in the chest, and the closed chest will remain at the front of the sanctuary, until the Feast of the Resurrection, at which time the children will come to church to find the chest opened, draped in white and brimming with Easter lilies, and the alleluia butteflies displayed around the church upon specially constructed banners.
We supposedly do this for our children, to provide them with visible and concrete reinforcement of the significance of the seasons of Lent and Easter. But is it really just for the children? I can only speak for myself, but each year as I watch the burying of the alleluias and listen to and sing the words above, I am reminded yet again of the depth of my sin and the miracle of my Lord's sacrifice for that sin. It is a reminder that I need on a daily--no, make that an hourly--basis. And that is one of the wonderful things about the liturgy and ritual of the Church: week after week, it shows us--hapless, confused and forgetful children that we are--our need for a Saviour, and week after week it likewise shows us where that Saviour is to be found.
I am looking forward to seeing those butterflies on Easter morning just as much as my children are.
*For those who might be interested, this hymn was sung to the tune Picardy.