You know I think I have posted about this topic before, but it is certainly worth repeating. Very often, my favorite times of the week are just after both church and house church. The reasons for my joy are similar but not identical, as is the tenor of the joys.
My church is not perfect. In my opinion, it is not even currently fully filling one of its founding mandates of being a truly multi-cultural church. I think we need to have a black pastor and more black leadership for that to really be true. And yet, sitting in church today and looking at the diversity that exists was truly amazing. Sometimes I get rather blase about it and take it all for granted, but it is a truly remarkable thing, as is the fact that we get consistent hardcore messages encouraging us to sacrifical living (which are nested in grace I should add) and the place continues to be full and grow. Go figure. And they are tough messages. I might have an occassional theological fine point to argue sometimes or grumble with the implications of the sermon for my life, which happens more often, but, wow, there are not many other places you are going to get that combination.
I could go on about what I would like in church (a little more of the creeds and confession and…ok I can’t think of a third “c”) but that is not something I dwell upon, not when there are other things to be about. The combination of all the things my church offers may not be for everyone, but its voice and the emphases it focuses upon are worthy of wider hearing and consideration.
Ah, I digress. My favorite part of chuch is at the end. And not just because, “Whew, we finally get to go home,” though that thought does occur from time to time. No, I dig it because after praise and prayers and a challenging sermon, we generally get either a more traditional hymn (today it was “O Sacred Head Now Wounded”) or a more reflective contemporary song or spiritual, which matches my worship temperament better, though I can dig the rocking songs sometime too.
And then we get to have communion. If it were a meal, would this be the main course or would it be the sermon? The Protestants will tell you the latter; the Catholics the former. I am very close to going with the Catholics on this one. Both are sacraments, though, even in the Protestant formulation, and so impart grace. And the thought of having grace imparted to me in a tangible way, that really does something to me body, mind, and spirit excites me.
We have communion in a massive circle, so it can potentially be a little distracting, but the beauty is that no one really cares how you do it. And, though I rather like the concept of everyone doing things the same way at the same time and could be perfectly happy in a more liturgical church, I do take the advantage of the freedom to create my own ritual. Now that sounds terribly postmodern in one way, but I do not think my little rituals are counter to scripture or much tradition, so I think I am OK. They are not even that demonstrative. There are times when I really want to cross myself either during or after communion, but I haven’t gotten up the courage to do that as yet.
And then after grace has been imparted to us in a touchable, chewable form, we get the benediction. I think it means the “good word.” We don’t always get a formal one, but I dig it when we do. Did you know that only an ordained elder can actually give a benedition in the PCA? I know to some that might sound horribly Catholic and not very priesthood of believerish, but, yes, I like it very much, to be blest by those who have been placed in spiritual authority over me. Bring it on. We can and should bless one an another as friends and family members, perhaps by placing our hands on someone’s head even, but that does not perclude there being a different type of blessing from an elder. Check out the end of the book of James for a model of both of these things in the discussion concerning the person who is sick.
One part of my rituals, such as they are, that I will tell you about is that I like to cup my hands at this point, as if receiving a gift. Cheesy? Perhaps, but it encodes what is happing for me. I would even like being given the communion bread and wine if possible. If I ever have the opportunity to suggest things to a congregation in the future I might suggest some of these at the least, perhaps, as occassional practices. I may even suggest opening our mouths during parts of the service to symbolize tasting the Lord or receiving his word. Yeah, I bet the kids will love that.
No, I also like this time because I am anticipating fellowship with my friends and perhaps with new friends, because very often we will be eating together and enjoying one another’s company and silly jokes in a very short while.
As for the second time of the week after house church, well the order of things is reversed a bit, as is their ecclesiastical weight. There are no official sacraments, for example. First, we eat in a weekly potluck that may feature any number of dishes from vegan to totally carnivorous. And the fellowship is even better than the food. Then we sing and study and pray. And I like the studying because, yes, I often lead it, and that is also one of my favorite things to do. And the prayer is great, because we break into gendered groups and can really deeply pray for one another (except when my Elder Eddie and Andy and I and are figuring out which old school choruses we all know and singing snippets of them rather loudly). At the end of house church, sometimes I am as giddy as a schoolgirl. What I really want to know though is, are schoolgirls really giddy, and, if so, why? OK, so perhaps I am not as giddy as all that, but I can get as silly as I do with my family, well, because I suppose that is who I am with.
OK, I did not intend to go that long….back to the Aeneid, which, I might add, is really good, classic even. Maybe there is something to this “classics” business.
Finally, blessings for the week upon you all.