It is an odd word – Alleluia. And I suspect that most of us use it without having the slightest idea what it means. Indeed, I am certain that hundreds of thousands, even millions of Christians have used this word and rejoined in this word without knowing at all what they were saying.
It is Hebrew and what it means is this: Praise God! But how much better: Alleluia! There is something joyful just in the sound of it, which is the reason it is rarely rendered into another tongue. Alleluia! What a wonderful and strange word.
It is a shout. Alleluia! It is a cry of triumph and joy, of praise and thanksgiving. A cry even of surprise. Alleluia!
And that is as it should be, for on this holy day we celebrate something which surprised and continues to surprise the whole world: that Jesus, the rabbi and carpenter of Nazareth, through the power of God, has risen from the dead and in his rising has overcome everything that led him to the cross and held mankind 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 – Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome. Their teacher, their master was dead, and they went to the tomb to mourn and to anoint his body, but they were taken by surprise. The stone had been rolled away from the door, 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 the news. “He is not here. He is risen. He is not here. He is risen.” They didn’t expect it, and they were surprised. “Trembling and astonishment came upon them.” Alleluia!
And we don’t expect it either, do we? Human life and the world around us so often seem caught in the grip of grim fatality, destined to repeat again and again the same boring sins and mistakes, condemned to endure the same disappointments and sadnesses and outright catastrophes. Good Friday seems the last word on the world and you and me: hopes dashed to pieces, goodness crushed. Expect nothing and you’ll never be disappointed. That’s what my great-aunt 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 – not ours and not the world’s. And Good Friday was not what it seemed to be, for this morning we learn that that seemingly awful day was in fact a triumph. Love won the battle. Love won the battle. In spite of all that evil, sin, and the devil could marshal up to break his resolve, Jesus’ obedience and faithfulness to God prevailed. Obedience and faithfulness prevailed – even on the Cross – and the Lord Christ, our sweet Jesus, is proclaimed by God to be the Victor. The tomb cannot contain Him. His love is larger than evil and sin. His love is larger than evil and sin. 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, of course, again, 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 His love and power need no proofs. There are no explanations, and it cannot be explained. But those who know His love and power need no explanations. Jesus is risen from the dead. This is a new fact about the world and human life which goes beyond all the old fatalities. It is unexpected. A reversal of all we thought we knew. A complete surprise! Alleluia!
And so, my brothers and my sisters, let us not look for proof today. Jesus is risen from the dead; His Victory and his presence here among us 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 cry which overcomes the world. Praise God! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!