Tag Archive: Lent


This was the homily I preached this morning based on Psalm 118:14-29 and Benjamin Britten’s cantata “Rejoice in the Lamb.”

There are images circulating around the internet right now that I’ve seen seminary pals posting on Facebook that say, “what do you mean Easter is over?!  Easter lasts 50 days!”  But it’s easy to forget after all the glorious celebration of Easter Sunday that we get to continue the party.  And part of this means being able to rock out the “hallelujahs” again!

The Lenten ban on “hallelujahs” or “alleluias” is something that I really try to uphold, but it gets hard because I love music.  Even with pop music, I’ll be singing along in the car, feeling the music, bopping along, and then I realize that I’ve let the forbidden word slip.  Oops.  One of these songs is Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” which has been covered by everyone and their brother.  You’d think that with a title like “Hallelujah” I’d be able to see it coming and restrain myself, but it’s still really hard because it’s a great song!  It is, however, a melancholy kind of song – the kind of song that makes me well up and want to let out all the emotion in my soul.

Music can do that to you.  It can carry you away so that you say “hallelujah” even in the middle of Lent or it can move you to tears.  And speaking of great music, we’re going to hear some fantastic music in just a few minutes.  In reading over the text of Benjamin Britten’s piece, which is printed in the bulletin and was written by Christopher Smart, I was at first a wee bit baffled by the lyrics.  But as Gerry and I discussed the piece, I became really moved by what it was saying.  One part of it that really caught me were these lines:

“Hallelujah, hallelujah,
Hallelujah from the heart of God,
And from the hand of the artist inimitable,
And from the echo of the heavenly harp
In sweetness magnifical and mighty.
Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah.”

First of all, Christopher Smart’s poetry is mysterious and beautiful.  Second, I was hooked by this idea of a “hallelujah from the heart of God.”  What does that mean?

Hallelujah is a Hebrew word.  Well, actually, if we want to get technical, it’s two words – “Hallelu” and “jah.”  And this phrase is a command that means “you all praise God!”  So when we shout “hallelujah,” we’re really saying “ya’ll praise God now!”  It’s an exclamation – something that is not just for us, but that is meant to draw others in.  “You all praise God” so that we can join our voices together in praising and worshiping God, just like a choir.

But what would “hallelujah from the heart of God” mean?  I think it means something incredibly profound.  I think it means our praise of God doesn’t start with us.  It starts with God.   This may sound like a really foreign concept for us, but it shows up in the psalms as well.  “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.  By the LORD has this been done; it is marvelous in our eyes.  This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. … You are my God, and I will thank you; you are my God, and I will exalt you, Give thanks to the LORD, for the LORD is good; God’s mercy endures forever.”

Psalm 118 is part of the praise psalms whose primary purpose is to praise and glorify God.  And the writers and singers of these psalms praise because God is who God is.  They give thanks and exalt the Lord because of who they know God to be and because of what God has done.  They give praise and bear witness to how God has been active in their lives in order to point to God and to share the goodness of God.   They shout “hallelujah” and command “praise God,” inviting others to join the song of praise.  They invite them to be a part of the chorus of hallelujahs by sharing with others what God has done for them.

We even see this in the Gospel of John: “now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.  But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”  All that we hear in this Gospel is written down so that we may come to believe in and worship Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God.  All these amazing things about Jesus’ life, miracles or signs, death and resurrection have been written down in order to invite us to believe.  All these things that have come from the loving heart of God and have been graciously and generously given to us – these things invite a hallelujah.  What we’ve experienced as the goodness and mercy from God’s own heart should evoke a hallelujah – our praise of God.

In all of this, the question is this: do we give praise and shout hallelujah in order that we, as well as others, might believe?

When I am struggling with unbelief, or doubt, or missing out on that encounter with God, I recall what God has done in my life and in the lives of those I know.  I listen to the stories of others who are praising and bearing witness to God’s action in their lives.  This hearing and remembering what God has done helps to spark gratitude and praise in my life.  It helps me to continue believing – and as we hear in the Gospel of John, it’s through this believing that we have life to the full in the name of Christ.

On Wednesday, I watched a TEDxChange event that was put on by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  TEDTalks are devoted to “ideas worth spreading” – sharing ideas in order to make a difference in the world.  At Wednesday’s event, several speakers and poets took the stage, but the topic all were focusing upon was “positive disruption.”  The speakers spoke about ways of positively disrupting the world in order to make a difference – whether through better health care for women, contraceptives, or famine relief.

But I love that phrase “positive disruption.”  I think that’s what “hallelujah” is in our lives.  It’s a shout.  It’s a word you want to blurt out.  It’s a positive disruption or interruption in our lives in that it shakes up our doubts, sorrows, and difficulties and fills us again with gratitude, praise and joy.  It’s the word that bursts the tomb and offers us Christ, standing before us saying “peace be with you.”  It’s the word that causes us to think about what God has done.  It’s the word uttered from another’s lips that causes us to remember God’s goodness even when we feel far from God.  It’s the word that energizes us and helps us remember that we are invited to live our lives as responses to God’s love.

Today, may we let our hallelujahs burst forth in our words, prayers and songs.  May we let the Spirit stir up in us those hallelujahs that were born in the heart of God.  May we, with our hallelujahs, invite others to praise God.  And may we continue the celebration of Easter all our days.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

© 2013. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

Fifth Sunday in Lent

So far on my Lenten journey, I’ve managed to memorize Psalms 51, 121, and 42, and I’ve read Psalm 46. This past week I worked through Psalm 42, which has been a great exercise for me.

First of all, as I mentioned last week, I love the image of thirsting after God. This longing to spend more time with God has been really present this busy and hectic semester. I’ve truly appreciated the opportunity to sit quietly in contemplative prayer. There, quietly gathered together to focus on God, I’ve been blessed to listen to God and also to have some deeply meaningful reflections with members of the seminary community.

Second, in reflecting on life and situations I’ve been a part of or even witnessed (Haiti and Japan, for example), I have seen suffering. Unfortunately, it is all too often a part of life. Thinking about these times, I’ve come to appreciate this psalm’s questions and honest frustration: “I say to God, my rock, ‘Why have you forgotten me? Why must I walk about mournfully because the enemy oppresses me?’” The psalmist is freely about to express himself, but he also maintains his faith in God – the God who is the God of his life, his rock, and his help.

In spite of frustrations, pain and suffering, the psalmist is still able to praise God because he remembers God’s goodness and faithfulness. Now this is raw and unapologetic wrestling with the difficult questions of life – naming the problem, the hurt and the pain and asking God point-blank, “where are you?” I think we often feel like we cannot wrestle with God like this – that we cannot ask questions of God or call God to task, but the psalms invite us to pray deeply and honestly, voicing our concerns and airing our frustrations so we can once again praise God. I think we would be wise to learn from these ancient prayers.

In response to this psalm, I would like to tackle Psalm 145, but I am hesitant to do so since it is so full of praise. I think I should like to dwell a bit longer in the penitential and contemplative mood of Lent before springing into Easter joy – at least as far as my psalm choices are concerned! So, instead, I will work on 130, which has long been a favorite:

Psalm 130:
1 Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD.
2 Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!
3 If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?
4 But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.
5 I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;
6 my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.
7 O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem.
8 It is he who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities.

It’s also quite appropriate since I’ve been thinking a lot about being made righteous through the cross of Christ and God’s grace – not through my own actions. Stay tuned to see what I learn from Psalm 130! Peace!

© 2011. Annabelle Peake. All rights reserved.

Fourth Sunday in Lent

Another week down – that’s crazy! I have no idea where the time is going. All I know is that this week, Psalm 46 did not get memorized. I selected it because we had looked at it last Friday in my Psalter class, finding that the Hebrew in 46:10 (“Be still and know that I am God!”) is actually closer to “Let go and know that I am God!” “Let go.” Wow. That blew my mind. It has the connotation of letting go of a rope or unclenching one’s fist (as in a war).

This “letting go” also came up later when I was in contemplative prayer and meditating on what I felt called to work on in my relationships with God and others. What came up was trusting God more. And when I prayed about and listened for how to trust more, the answer I heard was twofold: to embrace the blessings God has given me and to “let go and know that I am God.”

So when it came time to pick a psalm to memorize, I thought Psalm 46 would be a winner. However, when I sat down to read over it, nothing was sticking. I tried a few times and it just wasn’t speaking to me. And throughout the week, various things came up and I neglected poor 46. Sigh.

When I realized the week had gone by and I hadn’t managed to memorize this psalm, I was discouraged. How could I have been such a slacker? Even if it wasn’t speaking to me, I still should have spent more time with it, opening my heart to see if it would touch me. However, this struggle with Psalm 46 seems to have served to point me in the direction of my next psalm. What could it be? Psalm 42:

As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
2 My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and behold
the face of God?
3 My tears have been my food
day and night,
while people say to me continually,
‘Where is your God?’
4 These things I remember,
as I pour out my soul:
how I went with the throng,
and led them in procession to the house of God,
with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving,
a multitude keeping festival.
5 Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help 6and my God.
My soul is cast down within me;
therefore I remember you
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
from Mount Mizar.
7 Deep calls to deep
at the thunder of your cataracts;
all your waves and your billows
have gone over me.
8 By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
and at night his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.
9 I say to God, my rock,
‘Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I walk about mournfully
because the enemy oppresses me?’
10 As with a deadly wound in my body,
my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me continually,
‘Where is your God?’
11 Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.

You may wonder why I’ve chosen a longer psalm when I couldn’t even get through the relatively short Psalm 46 last week, but I think I’ll have better luck because this speaks to me, especially the first two verses: “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” Like the deer of the wilderness longing for a stream, I, too, long to be closer to God – to be filled with God’s Holy Spirit and inspired (“in-Spirited”) for service to God and the world.

With this psalm on my lips and in my heart, perhaps it’ll be a constant reminder of what and for whom I should be longing – not after the things of this world, but God. And in those moments when my soul is disquieted and cast down, I can recall that I will indeed praise God at a later time – as I have done in the past so many times due to God’s mercy, grace and outrageous generosity.

© 2011. Annabelle Peake. All rights reserved.

Second Sunday in Lent

Round two. Ding ding! We’re now one and a half weeks into our Lenten journey. And I must admit that this past week, I floundered a bit with my Lenten discipline. I didn’t touch Facebook, but I also neglected digging into the Psalms like I was hoping to. I continued praying and living with Psalm 51, which I’m now quite comfortable with, but with midterms, I decided to save the space in my memory for vocabulary terms, dates, religious movements, and themes in Christian mission and the Psalter rather than for memorizing a psalm.

I think that having the Scriptures memorized is incredibly helpful and can give me words when my own seem inadequate or like they come up empty. At the same time, however, “failing” in my memorization for the past week made me feel like I was neglecting my discipline (which I was), but I think I need to be careful not to slip over into equating “succeeding” in this discipline as putting me more in God’s favor or somehow making me more pious. It is a tool to help me on my way – first and foremost to teach me about God and help me to follow God, and secondly, to encourage me to reflect on myself. No memorization or lack of memorization can increase or decrease the amazing gift we have received through what Christ has already accomplished on the cross.

Providentially, Psalm 121 is today’s psalm and it highlights that God alone is our help. The same God who created heaven and earth and who will keep our going out and coming in “from this time on and forevermore.” I pray that reading and contemplating this psalm this week will remind me of the incredible goodness and steadfastness of God’s work and promises – promises which God keeps even when I may fall short. The Lord of all creation keeps our lives, watches over us and “will neither slumber not sleep” out of love for us – God’s children.

Stay tuned next week to see what I learn from a week with Psalm 121!

Psalm 121
1 I lift up my eyes to the hills — from where will my help come?
2 My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.
4 He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade at your right hand.
6 The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.
7 The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.
8 The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.

Below is a song from Casting Crowns entitled “Praise You in This Storm” which includes the words of Psalm 121:

© 2011. Annabelle Peake. All rights reserved.

First Sunday in Lent

Today is the first Sunday in Lent. Ash Wednesday, only 4 days ago, marked the beginning of my journey. With quiet time for prayers and reflection, as well as a cross smeared on my head in ashes, my season of Lent started.

Ash Cross from Google Search

In general, I look forward to Lent – to the quiet and penitential season which allows us to examine and rest in our relationship with God. “Examine” and “rest” don’t seem like two words that should go together, but reading Psalm 51 (the first Psalm I’m working on memorizing and the Psalm read at the Ash Wednesday service), has helped me to understand Lent in a different light:

1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.
5 Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.
6 You desire truth in the inward being;1 therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.
14 Deliver me from bloodshed, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.
15 O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.
17 The sacrifice acceptable to God1 is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
18 Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; rebuild the walls of Jerusalem,
19 then you will delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar.

This is a song of penitence – a prayer that God might turn God’s face from the psalmist’s sins, that God, in God’s “steadfast love” and “abundant mercy,” might blot out or erase the psalmist’s transgressions. This is the examining part of Lent, and what Lutherans would call “the law.” We are all sinners. We have all done things we know we should not have. Moreover, we have all committed sins that we may not even recognize as sins. We have also failed to do the things we should have. In short, as Paul writes, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

But this is not, thankfully, the end of the story. There is also the resting part of Lent, or, as Lutherans, would call it, the gospel part of “law and gospel.” This is the good news that God does indeed forgive us – no matter what we have done or failed to do. The good news that God can and will create clean hearts in us and restore the joy of salvation to us. Joy. That’s a word we don’t often hear in Lent, but I believe it is crucial. In examining our sins and noting how we have fallen short of God’s glory, we are driven back to the cross of Christ, forgiven of our sins, and it is there, at the foot of the cross, that we know the joy of God’s salvation – of God’s grace, mercy and love. This is the love and comforting embrace in which we can rest – holding firm to the promises of God.

I am really enjoying reading the Psalms carefully and trying to memorize them. It’s difficult and can be frustrating, especially when I don’t get it right even after many attempts, but once memorized, it’s been amazing to speak Psalm 51 aloud and actually think about the words I’m saying. To recite the psalm not just as a monologue, but as a prayer has made helped me to appreciate the Psalter not just as a thing of the past, but as a collection of prayers and songs to be used in conversation with God.

As for being off of Facebook, what a blessing! Surprisingly, it’s been easy to avoid it and I don’t miss it much, although it is hard to break the habit of compulsively checking it every 5 seconds. Sigh. I think I may limit myself to once a week once Lent is over because I’m enjoying the detachment. Over time, I think I may notice that being disconnected from Facebook will encourage me to connect on a deeper level with family and friends – that it will help me to really be present with them, not thinking about something else or multitasking while we talk. We’ll see, I suppose!

© 2011. Annabelle Peake. All rights reserved.

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