“Why do you go to church?” was the intriguing question asked by one of the gals before it was time for our dessert of chocolate cake. And this gem was followed by, “And what is your favorite part of the service: the Readings, the Sermon or the Eucharist?”
Folks who attend the Episcopal churches that I frequent here in Sacramento are an eclectic bunch. This was made possible by Good Queen Bess in the England of the 1500s. “The Book of Common Prayer” was established in 1552. Her basic rule, in a nutshell, was that folks had to read the book, but they could pretty much think and believe whatever they wanted.
So it’s not unusual to ask a group of Episcopal peeps a question of theological import and then to get a different answer from every individual.
The answer to the first question was easy: We go to church for community and fellowship. We all agreed on that. Because come on, let’s face it, (well, for me anyway), Saturday nights at home with my 3 cats always feel better after I’ve attended the 5:10pm service at the church down the street. The music is lovely and upbeat, the piano player is amazing and there are usually cookies and coffee afterwards.
There is a certain comfort to the routine of it all…song, readings, song, sermon, Holy C, songs, go in peace, Amen. Most of the regulars always sit in the same places…couples huddled together and single folks spread out far and wide, lost in prayer and thoughts that may never be known to another human being.
I always sit behind a 93-year-old gentleman named Harry because, well…that is just where I sit and he is usually always sitting there in front of me before I even get to the pew.
His dear wife passed away 6 years ago and he misses her, but he is still going strong. We always shake hands and say hello. He turns around and talks about familiar things I’ve heard many times before and I always respond with my own familiar responses. The dear man is as deaf as a doorknob despite his hearing aids, so I always have to sit up and speak directly into his right ear. Then he is silent for several seconds…and then he turns and speaks again and I lean forward…. It’s kind of like doing sit-ups sitting down.
And then after the service, I always try to catch up with a friend of mine who often disappears behind the altar into whatever-that-room-is-called to wash vessels…or something. And sometimes I find her and sometimes not and then I go outside into the courtyard for a cuppa Joe and a cookie and sit with the homeless folks.
And then, satisfied, it’s home to the cats and a bite to eat and another DVD.
Okay, so where was I?
Right…community…even if we all sit apart from one another, we are all bound together in spirit (I hope).
Onto to the second question: “What is your favorite part of the service?”
I won’t speak for my two friends (since I can’t remember exactly what they said!), but after some initial back and forth, I finally figured out my answer.
The physical and mystical union that produced me many years ago was born of the love of an Irish-Catholic gentleman for a full-blooded Jewish woman.
I was raised a Catholic (’nuff said about that for now) but even though my mother’s parents weren’t observant Jews, still I grew up with a foot in 2 different worlds.
There were nuns, priests, alcoholics, steak-and-potatoes and church-every-Sunday on the one side and Yiddish slang, corned beef on rye from the deli down the street, lox, bagels, Chinese food take-out and my Grandma talking about the matzo ball soup or the latkes, blintzes or kugel that she was going to make for dinner.
So, bottom line, believe it or not, I’m kinda partial to the Eucharistic liturgy part of the service. And the reason is not because I personally believe that there is flesh and blood up there on the altar instead of bread and wine, but because I imagine it as a re-enactment of the Last Supper. NOT the Christian version of the Last Supper, but rather, the Jewish version. It is, to me, the commemoration of a cool rabbi and prophet named Joshua celebrating the feast of Passover with his bumbling buddies and Mary of Magdalen and all the wives and kids.
That is what they had gathered for in that upper room 2,000 years ago — fellowship, wine, bread and roasted lamb.
And so, in the mystical Jewish side of my brain, when the priest lifts up the bread, I silently pray “Baruch atah Adonai” and then the same for the wine. And then I “break the fast” and go up and partake of bread and wine just as my Jewish ancestors have done for centuries…just in a slightly different way….
Now…bring on the chocolate cake!
The Last Supper
7 Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. 8 Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover.”
9 “Where do you want us to prepare for it?” they asked.
10 He replied, “As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters, 11 and say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 12 He will show you a large room upstairs, all furnished. Make preparations there.”
13 They left and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.
14 When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. 15 And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”
17 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. 18 For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”
19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”
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