Let the Alleluias Rise Up

Ellen Cooper

Every year, the same conundrum: How do we find our way into Easter when, for us, the most important part about Jesus of Nazareth is his teachings, rather than his death? Like many traditional holidays, it must have some meaning to us beyond its commercial trappings. But what is that meaning, exactly?

What are we to make of the death of one Jewish teacher two millennia ago in a world where we hear daily of violence, death and injustice?

When I left my Christian upbringing, the first thing I wholeheartedly threw out the window was the cross. I kept the bunny, the eggs, the chocolate, but the whole death and resurrection thing was right out. Many years later, I reluctantly let little bits of it back in, particularly around resurrection and rebirth. It was an easy metaphor to embrace for a holiday that, in many places, ushers in Springtime. But it is only in very recent years that the whole story has again found a place in my spirituality—that Easter takes on a deeper meaning than it ever did when I was a child.

“No Alleluias until Easter,” my daughter told me solemnly. “Shhhh. The alleluias are sleeping.” She pointed to the small raised garden bed being warmed by the spring sun, where I could see the sprouts of trumpet lilies pushing up through the soft dirt." Before Easter," she summed up, "no alleluias. After Easter...alleluias again.”…

Of course. Perhaps the simplest, most elegant explanation of Easter I have ever heard,
without all of the complicated and problematic substitutionary atonement theology, without the irrationalism of missing bodies or visitations from the dead.

This is Easter stripped down to its most central, heart-of-hearts message. We have alleluias in our lives--moments of triumph and wonder, of insight and rebirth. These are moments of transformation, when our way of being in the world is fundamentally changed. Strengthened. Deepened. When we feel more whole; more connected. The exuberant and joyful Alleluia is a good way to think of these moments. But as my Christian colleagues are fond of saying, you can’t get to Easter without Good Friday.

The story of the resurrection cannot go forward without a death. Sometimes, the most profound transformations are the ones that emerge out the deaths that we face in our lives. It may be a literal death, the hole left in your life when a beloved has gone, and you feel unmade by the loss. It may be any one of a thousand lesser losses -the loss of a job or a friendship; the death of a marriage or partnership; a change in physical or mental ability; even the death of a long-held dream. These places of grief are barren places in our lives, God-forsaken places that teach us sorrow and suffering and lamentation.

…But feeling forsaken is not the same as being forsaken. The story of Easter tells us that death doesn’t win...Love wins. Like the saplings that sprout among the ruins of a forest fire, like the phoenix who is born from its own ashes, like the crocus that pokes through the snow each spring, like the banana tree...which dies, but lives on in its children, hope rises. Hope rises up even in the face of death. Even in our wilderness, we are never completely lost.