Sunday, April 26, 2009

A group of us went to Joe's Crab Shack on Rt. 1 in Lawrenceville for dinner. It was nice of them to invite me, actually. I gave Michele a graduation present, a book. What else would I give?

She told me she was in a pinch and used the commentary I had given her three years ago. I recall it being one of the better ones; not all the volumes in that series are helpful. The WBC is two volumes. Who can afford that?!

After dinner, I had planned to attend an Episcopal service on the Princeton campus.

I arrived at University Place with ten minutes to find the chapel. When the first building I approached turn out to be wrong, I asked a passerby for directions. She said I had to enter the campus. I was still on the outskirts, apparently.

So, I went in and discovered that every building looks like a chapel, especially at night. The place is just silly with Gothic spires. Asked another person for directions and after walking to the other side of the block, I found the chapel and slipped inside.

A beige, metal book-truck stood in the vestibule with hymnals and folded paper programs. I took one of each and boldly went inside the nave. The nave was empty except for the four-person procession standing at the front. I then spotted a dozen or so heads, people sitting on either side of the choir.

I stopped cold about halfway down the nave and the priest heard me, turned 'round and gestured me to come forward. I breathed an apology about being late and brushed past, climbed the stairs and took a quick seat on the top row. I became self-conscious when I saw no one else sitting on the top row. And I soon became aware that I was sitting behind the choir, I mean, the ones who sang. But, really, all that embarrassment would come later ... or more gradually. It was a running hour of embarrassment. I was pretty sure at least one person spotted me for a papist.

I knew the processional hymn, Alleluia, Sing to Jesus, well enough to sing from memory while I found my place in the hymnal. The cover of the folded program announced it was the Feast of St. Mark and the inside explained that the feast had been transferred from the previous day. True enough; keep the calendar interesting.

So, an invocation, a collect, the Gloria. Another collect. First Lesson (Reading) from Isaiah ... I don't know what translation was read from, actually ... the choir sang Psalm 2. The Second Lesson was from Ephesians and the Gospel was, like us yesterday, the "Longer Ending" to Mark.

A young man slipped in next to me during the sermon. So, no, I wasn't the very last to arrive. People blessed themselves at various times. I tried to keep up so as not to stand out. One man made a deep bow every time Jesus' name was mentioned, even in song, thinking of Philippians 2:10, perhaps. Several people bowed to the exalted crucifix that lead the procession/recession. One man at times reminded me of an Hasidim: he rocked as he prayed.

As we said the Nicene Creed, I noticed a deliberate rhythm to the prayer. I mean, they take a full pause for every comma, every phrase. I wanted to catch that rhythm. And I became aware that those around me had British accents. So I tried to say, "Ah-men" as they did.

Same with the prayers of the people, a meditative pause before the reply, "Lord, Have Mercy." And then a confession of sin which I'll include the words here because I can't find them exactly like this online:
Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen
I said those words and tried to mean them. Then, as the program says, the celebrant pronounced absolution of sin over us. And it was time for the sign of peace, for everyone to shake hands and greet each other. There were only three others around me, but a man came from across the choir to shake my hand. Then announcements and the collection. Then a Thanksgiving Prayer which sounded a bit like a eucharistic prayer. The Sanctus with a familiar memorial acclamation ... "Christ has died ... " and the Lord's Prayer. And the Angus Dei. At this point, the man next to me was on his knees, his face buried in his hands. I resisted the desire to get on my knees.

I wasn't sure how the communion line would work. Fortunately for me, I had all the time in the world to observe because things began on the far side and worked their way my direction. The deal I made with myself was that if the man who walked in during the sermon went up, I would too. And, well, he almost didn't but at the last possible second, he got to his feet and slipped out of the pew just as people in the front rows were returning. So, I really had to move because the communion line had shrunk to only a few people. I approached with the posture detailed in the program for a blessing and the priest began to break off a piece of bread for me. I spoke up, then, and said, "A blessing, please" and didn't know whether it was right to call him "father" or what, so I didn't address him directly. And he gave me a blessing and I crossed myself because that seemed appropriate and that was it. It was very nice.

So the prayer after communion and the final blessing. Most of us walked out when it was over but some stayed to pray. The place was very conducive to prayer. The singing was very beautiful as was the music. And I was able to pray for Michele and, even though I don't think I'll be able to join that service again, it was very encouraging to see young people - a good mix of women and men - so devoted to God and their religion.

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