Sunday, April 12, 2009

There was a sense of obligation and an awareness of opportunity ...
to attend a Protestant church this morning.

Call me a "roamin' Cath'lic."
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.
Even with twenty minutes until the early service start, there wasn't a dozen cars in the lot.
"There are more cars here on Tuesday morning before Bible study."
However, I'd rather slip in to the earlier service, unnoticed, than barge in before the later service and see all heads in Fellowship Hall at Sunday School turn towards my disruption. But there would be no Sunday School this morning - I've never, ever been! - because breakfast was on tap.
"Keeps Christians out of restaurants serving Easter brunch where they would certainly cause some scandal for the wait staff."
Prudent and hospitable.

The Praise Team was in the sanctuary rehearsing. I hung up my coat and entered by the open door. And noticed within a few minutes that I was sitting behind the Bible study leader's husband who was reading a paperback while his teenage son played bass guitar. She was almost certainly downstairs at choir rehearsal; I would bump into her later, after the worship service. The pastor's wife was among the Praise Team members but, when a duet rehearsed, she took a seat just ahead of me, after greeting me by name with a hug and a simple "Happy Easter." She asked for any constructive critique of the music. I could only offer that it was all very magnificent.

The sanctuary filled slowly as families, having arrived together, met with others according to their ministries, chatted, and then regrouped in the pews. The pastor glides in, according to humble habit, unceremoniously - there's something so appealing about that - and takes his seat in the big chair where he promptly opens his Bible and puts the finishing touches on his sermon. Or appears to. He doesn't strike me as one who leaves anything to last minute.

A sure sign that I was in someone's seat was that ... she sat next to me. She's seen me there before but still seemed surprised. She told me how much she favors the contemporary service over the traditional one, because of there being so much text in the latter. I almost clarified, "You mean 'liturgy?'" but held that comment and admitted to being partial to the wording of the traditional service myself. She said she didn't grow up PCA but that the Illinois church she came from, years ago now, had too much talking. Remembering that she used to play keyboard at the Bible study, I dismissed that as a musician's sentiment.

The Praise Team led with a somewhat traditional hymn which I knew well (we sang the first, second, four, and fifth stanza). But there was where the familiarity with the music ended. Next up was Michael W. Smith's Agnus Dei which wasn't in Latin, of course. But at least alleluia was spelled correctly. :-) And then "Hosanna" which is a religious cry that I like very much. It seems to me that the second two songs were sung at the service a month ago, but I can't exactly remember. It must be real hard to have a good number of songs that a small group is comfortable performing together. Argument for soloist right there.

The Praise Team leader stated the announcements and offered the opening prayer. He is the weak link in the lineup, dropping Reformed expressions like "destined" and "sovereign" into a conversational prayer that otherwise lacks any theological cohesion. I take his position as a work-in-progress. And he's a very nice guy. Besides, he announced the second collection which helped me feel more at home.

The sermon was another installment in this year's "Why I Believe" series, "Why I Believe Jesus Was Raised From the Dead." And he didn't say, "because the Bible tells me so." There was more meat to it than that. He took a quick survey of world religions and concluded that Christianity really makes a difference in a person's life. He's seen it first-hand. Moreover, salvation through Christ is in a person's best self-interest, it lifts them from the pit. So there was a pragmatism about it which is certainly culturally appealing (even though he insisted that Christianity spans cultures).

The most disappointing part of the sermon was when he quoted that popular bit attributed to Alexander Tytler and predicted that we Americans are spinning from complacency to apathy. The best part was when he told of his young grandchild who countered adults' remarks about the Easter Bunny with a graphic description of Jesus' crucifixion. And his observation that people don't know what to say about Christ's death is spot-on: "so that every mouth may be silenced ..." It's mind-boggling, no matter where you sit.

The acquaintance next to me asked me, as we prepared to part, to pray for her husband who had just been diagnosed. And I prayed a few minutes in the car before leaving and throughout the day today as I thought about him.

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