Alleluia ! Alleluia ! Alleluia !
It is a very odd and wonderful word – Alleluia. I wonder how many people here this morning know what it means. Some of you, certainly. But I suspect that those of you who don’t know are probably in the majority. Indeed, I would to wager that hundreds of thousands, even millions of Christians over the centuries have used this word and rejoiced in this word without having any idea at all what they were saying.
What is does mean is this: Praise God ! But how much better is: Alleluia ! There is something joyful just in the sound of the word. Alleluia! What an excellent and strange word. It is a shout ! An acclamation ! A cry of triumph and joy, praise and thanksgiving ! A cry even of surprise !
And that is as it should be, for in this holy season we celebrate something which surprised and continues to surprise the whole world: that Jesus, the rabbi of Nazareth, through the power of God, has risen from the dead and, by his death and rising has defeated everything which led him to the Cross and held humankind in bondage.
And it was a surprise, you know, for they didn’t expect it. Even those who had lived with him and were closest to him and listened to him as he taught. They didn’t expect it at all. They went to the tomb ( we heard the story last Sunday ), Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to mourn ( their teacher, their master was dead ), but they found that the stone had been rolled back from the entrance to the tomb, and what could they imagine but that his body had been stolen away. A desecration of his grave. Another act of cruelty and hatred toward the one who had been so cruelly tortured and killed. What else could it be ?
But then they learned that he had risen and was “going before you to Galilee.” They didn’t expect it and they were surprised. Alleluia !
And today, we heard the story of Thomas. Not only did Thomas not expect it, he refused to believe it. “Unless I see in his hands the print of the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe.” But Thomas was surprised. Alleluia ! Jesus appeared to him, and Thomas exclaimed, “My Lord and my God !” Alleluia !
And for so many reasons we don’t expect it either, do we ? Human life and the world around us so often seems caught in a grip of grim fatality, destined to repeat again and gain the same boring sins and stupid mistakes, condemned to endure the same disappointments and sadnesses. Good Friday seems the last word on the world and the lives we live. Hopes dashed to pieces, goodness crushed. Expect nothing and you’ll never be disappointed. That’s what a great aunt of mine used to say, and most of us agree with her. Expect nothing and you’ll never be disappointed.
And so, we too are surprised; for the last word, you see, is God’s word not ours, and not the world’s. And Good Friday is not what it seemed to be, for in Easter tide we learn that that seemingly awful day was really a triumph. Love won the battle of the Cross. Obedience and faithfulness prevailed, even in the midst of evil and hatred and pain – and the Christ, our dear Lord Jesus, is proclaimed by God victorious. He lives ! The tomb cannot contain him. Love is larger than sin and death. In this sad old world, one hears a new shout: Alleluia ! The weeping and the tears are ended. Alleluia ! He is risen. Alleluia!
And this is what it is: a shout ! An acclamation ! The proclamation of a victory !
There are no proofs and it can’t be proven. But those who know the love and the power of the risen Jesus need no proofs. There are no explanations, and it can’t be explained. Jesus is risen from the dead. It is a new fact about the world and about human life which goes beyond all the old fatalities, and itself creates a new world. It is unexpected. A reversal of what we thought we knew. A complete surprise. Alleluia!
And so, my sisters and brothers, let us not look for proofs in Easter tide. Jesus is risen from the dead; his victory proves itself. And let us not try to explain. God acted in Jesus, and his love is its own explanation.
If we boast, let our boast be of God.
If we weep, let our tears be tears of joy.
And if we shout let our shout be that ancient and always new cry which overcomes the world. Praise God ! Alleluia! Alleluia ! Alleluia !