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“Farewell to Alleluia” and Septuagesima

The remnant of Israel (Judah) was taken captive and exiled in Babylon for 70 years until Cyrus, king of the Persians, conquered the Babylonians and set them free. This foreshadowed what Christ accomplished in His death and resurrection, freeing His people from our bondage to sin, death, and hell. The Christian Church celebrates her deliverance by Jesus especially in the last three days of Holy Week: Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter.

Next Sunday is nearly 70 days before Easter, and it bears the name Septuagesima, which means “seventieth.” The Epiphany season proclaimed the significance of Bethlehem for the Gentiles; now we set our faces toward Jerusalem (St. Luke 9.51).

In imitation of exiled Judah, our services give up some of their songs. Think of Psalm 137: By the rivers of Babylon we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion. There we hung our harps on the willows. For those who carried us away captive required of us a song, saying, “sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? The first song that is omitted is the Gloria in Excelsis. The other “song” is the word Alleluia, which means, “Praise the Lord.”

The Hymn to Depart today bids a farewell to Alleluia (stanza 3), and we set it aside for a time. (The next time we sing it will be in triumphant, full-throated joy at the Easter Vigil!) Following Transfiguration, we pause to hear our Lord’s teaching on grace, His holy Word, and saving faith (the three “Gesima” Sundays). Then we will follow Him for 40 days through the desert (Lent) and at last to deliverance (Holy Week and Easter).

-Adapted from the Rev. Sean C. Daenzer, Director of Worship, Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod

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