unburied alleluias

Holy Week, Poetry, Spirituality
God’s Acre at Old Salem, photo by Sheila Hunter.

Some Christian communities “bury the alleluia” on the last Sunday before Lent or on Ash Wednesday. The tradition originated in the 5th Century when Western churches began to omit the singing and speaking of “alleluia” during Lenten liturgies. Today, some churches still bid farewell to or physically hide or bury the alleluia during Lent and resurrect it during the Easter Vigil to announce with singing the joyous news that Jesus is alive.

Three historically black churches in southern Louisiana and Notre-Dame de Paris were destroyed or damaged by fires during this year’s Christian liturgical season of Lent. This weekend, many churches across the world will observe an Easter Vigil to conclude Lent, carrying the vigil flame into darkened sanctuaries. The violent and tragic church fires are the context for this year’s Easter Vigil fires. The prophetic message? Even when evil does its strongest work to silence faith, Christian communities are often resilient and prophetic in their commitments to rise up singing as they keep watch through Easter Eve for the morning sun to rise yet again.

unburied alleluias

a weary sister walks among the ruins
sweeping cold ashes into a dustbin
for next year’s lenten initiation she says
bending again over the priceless residue

        “remember that you are dust         
and to dust you shall return”

the preacher said just 40 days ago while pressing
ashy imprints of mortality on furrowed foreheads

nobody saw it coming—
unholy tongues of fire stripping altars bare

out of sync with high holy lenten processions
where expectant worshipers catch sparks 
from an easter vigil flame and carry them 
into silent holy saturday sanctuaries

she puts a hand on her tired back and
when she lifts her face toward the pinking sky
a wayward bit of wind stirs the gathered ashes

and even with all other words
smothered by smoke and tears
she tastes alleluia on her dry lips