A few Sundays ago while my wife Sara Faye was on a women’s retreat, I missed Bible class at our Church of Christ to attend a service at St. John the Divine Episcopal Church in Houston. This is an evangelical congregation whose long-time rector (pastor), gracEmail subscriber Larry Hall, has been a dear friend since 1982 and has occasionally invited me to serve as a guest teacher. I reflected afterward about what part of the service I found most to be a blessing, and concluded that it was the incarnational involvement of the whole person and all of one’s senses.
One bows upon entering the sanctuary, stands to sing, sits to listen and kneels to pray. The choir and clergy wear colored vestments reflecting the rotation of the church calendar (the altar is decorated according to the same cycle). The service begins with a glorious and triumphant Processional and ends with a Recessional (we all do that for brides — why not for God as well?) The minister walks into the congregation to read the Gospel, to which the people respond, “Glory to you, Lord Christ!” The people also pronounce a unanimous and hearty “Amen” to all prayers.
The Communion liturgy is gospel-rich and classically worded. We go to the altar for Communion, where we receive bread and wine from one who pronounces, “The body of Christ” and “The blood of Christ” while placing bread in our hands and the chalice to our lips. We sing as Psalm 150 exhorts, praising God with the full sound of instruments as well as voice. Someone might point out that the first-century church had almost none of these externals, and that it more nearly resembled a home-church fellowship or perhaps even an AA meeting. I realize all that, and appreciate that worship style as well.
Today I am especially remembering a phrase from the Nicene Creed which we recited Sunday morning: “We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.” This is the truth about God’s whole church in all its parts. It is one, despite outward divisions resulting from human weakness and sin. It is holy, separated from the world and dedicated to God’s purpose and glory. It is catholic (“universal”) and includes Christ’s people in all times and places. It is apostolic, built on the Apostle’s testimony about Jesus and called to a lifestyle which the Apostles taught. Moreover, I am part of that “one holy catholic and apostolic Church,” whether I am worshiping in my regular Church of Christ or sitting in a pew at The Episcopal Church of Saint John the Divine. That is the truth of the matter, and I praise God that it is so.