If alleluia is our song, why does it disappear in Lent?

By The Revd Canon Aidan Platten, Canon Precentor - 06 March 2019
Blog Ash Wednesday © Paul Hurst
St Augustine reminded the Church that ‘We are an Easter people and Alleluia is our song’. People might be forgiven for thinking that too often Christians are slow to praise and thank and quick to judge. Frequently the song sounds more like ‘we are a gloomy people' and 'thou shalt not is our song’ is what is read on faces of believers or in the headlines of the press.

As Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, it feels that a gloomy song is legitimised all the more. Those who go to church on Ash Wednesday will find a cross is traced on their forehead accompanied by the words ‘Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return; turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ.’ That might not sound like a joyous message.

Lent, though, is not a time for gloom. It is a time for hope and it is a time that is in many ways a bit of a treat. It works like a spiritual re-boot. Switching off and on again might work for current technology but it works for the human soul too.

Lent sits alongside the story of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness and the tradition of giving things up is in some ways a getting alongside what Jesus did at the beginning of his ministry. That is a good way of understanding what we do - seeking to be more Christ-like and during Lent, Passiontide and Holy Week seeking to know Christ more nearly. That should be at the centre of why we do what we do.

There are knock-on positive effects - giving up chocolate or booze brings certain health benefits; taking on extra things can awaken our consciousness of others.

That said, we should enter Lent not so much wondering what Lent might do for us, but what we might do for God in this period of reflection.

Ash Wednesday, that first day of Lent, is a day that should be joyful - it is the beginning of a time of spiritual renewal. The reminder that we are dust and that we shall, all of us, eventually return to the dust is salutary but it is also life giving, if for no other reason than we are challenged to see the world beyond us. Remember that you are dust, yes. Turn away from sin - turn your back on those things that are barriers to love - love for God and love for others - yes! Be faithful to Christ. Why? Because Christ who calls each one of us into the love of the Holy Trinity is faithful too.

The Ash Wednesday liturgy in the Cathedral this year ends with the great hymn Guide me, O thou great Redeemer; that might seem a bit upbeat and joyful for the beginning of this season of penitence, fasting and penance. Lent should be joyful, it gives the chance for a fresh start, a spiritual spring clean, if you like, and it is a moment to turn again to Christ - our great Redeemer, the Bread of Heaven, and to seek after him.

‘Alleluia’ is not said during Lent, it is banned until the first proclamation of the Risen Christ at the Easter Vigil that comes after this period of preparation. That doesn’t mean that our song changes though; for we live the new life promised and won by Christ, and we reset our values and priorities, focussing once again on the calling of Jesus to follow him.

Click here to find out more about all the services and events taking place at Norwich Cathedral during Lent, Holy Week and Easter.

Picture: Paul Hurst

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