The Alleluia Dirge

“Making our funeral dirge the song….Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia” (Orthodox funeral service hymn)

Who of the Orthodox children of God hasn’t heard that slow droning plaint at a funeral or requiem? It contains the glorious contradiction: Even in death there is not the loss of the Lord. The paradox of spirituality must today be explained.

A funeral dirge is intended to convey the sad message of death’s reality. Those who come to pay their respects should be at least respectful. They should be sad, or try to look that way. Happiness is inappropriate at such times as laughing at jokes; at least this is the way most cultures have deemed proper behavior for that most solemn of occasions. Yet we cannot be entirely morose, as this song reminds us, because even now at our darkest period, when we normally feel overwhelmed with despondency and alienation from life, we remember that God is with us. Alleluia rings out that truth.

Does it imply we ought not to cry? Not if that would be dishonest. There is no “ought” for a Christian in touch with her or his emotions. Nobody should have to tell us when to weep, anymore than we can be prompted to laugh. We do as our hearts dictate, and there are times for tears here on earth. Yes we weep, as St. Paul explains, but not as those without hope.

We remind one another and the immediate family most of all the lessons taught us by Jesus regarding life in the Kingdom of Heaven. It is in liturgy where we hear the song, Alleluia . It’s sung as a prelude to the gospel of the day, just after the epistle reading. Praise YHWH! This is its meaning. Like Amen , or Hosanna , the words are left in the original Hebrew. It first takes us back to the psalms of praise in the Old Testament, then it projects us forward in time towards the future, when we shall hear the “roar of a great multitude in heaven” (Revelation 19:1). There is where the celebration of the reign of the Lord God Almighty takes place. He is the One Who shall give the saints good reason for their joy as they are invited to the feast of the Lamb and His bride, the Holy Church.

How eloquently the funeral injects that word of hope, Alleluia , which ushers in the theme of salvation, as the anticipated Kingdom of God announces itself.

It’s not sung only to console the grieving. It rejoices in the awareness that the one now taken from the earth is able to hear the voice of that same Jesus whose words we have on record in the sacred gospels:
“Today,” He vowed to the thief expiring alongside Him on the Cross, “You will be with Me in Paradise.”

And if for that self-proclaimed sinner, how much more for the departed one who had been baptized into Christ, who in a real sense now “puts on Christ.” It’s why the Orthodox refer to the funeral service as a “crowning.” Just as at that happiest of occasions, a wedding, so also whenever one is undergoing a transition from one state of existence to another, he or she is reminded of the crown awaiting the one loved by Christ, there in His Father’s Kingdom. “This is the day that the Lord has made,” even though it be a day of burial; nevertheless, “let us rejoice and be glad in it.”