Sunday, April 16, 2017

Questions on Easter

Beautiful, but
would we decorate an electric chair?

For me, the question of where to worship this Easter Sunday was complicated.

1)  Brentwood Presbyterian Church?  I'm a member there but haven't been able to stomach sermons by men since the Nov. 8 election.  

I can only take so much male dominance in my life.  

After Hillary Rodham Clinton won the presidency by 2.8 million votes but lost because of the Electoral College--and because of Russian interference, FBI Director James Comey's interference, and voter ID requirements in some states--I can't enter a church and sit meekly in a pew while a man talks at me.

Well, actually, I did that for the first time on Good Friday.  I went with my husband to visit St. Augustine by-the-Sea Episcopal [see footnote], thinking there wouldn't be a sermon.  Many times a Good Friday service just offers a dramatic re-enactment of the arrest, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus, but this time the rector, Nate Rugh, gave a sermon.  I didn't walk out when he began to speak.  I stayed, thinking it would be good penance.  It's always good to suffer on Good Friday, right?  I was fasting for the occasion--why not win a few more points by enduring a male sermon?

It wasn't bad.  I heard good words spoken by a representative of the male domination that surrounds me in the US and the world.  Not bad but not a positive experience, all in all.

Nate said that the death of Jesus on the cross shows us two things: 

  • that God loves us and in fact took on human form and human suffering, and
  • that God confronts human evil with a NO that ultimately defeats evil.

Good enough to be memorable, I admit that.

2)  Thus, St. Augustine by-the-Sea was my second option. I could celebrate the Resurrection there and sit with my husband (earning a few more points for good behavior, in the eyes some people), but I'd have to sit through another sermon by a male pastor and watch him parade in followed by two female assistant pastors.  As it turned out, this service was almost two hours long, including a 30-minute sermon.  If length is one of the criteria by which you choose, avoid this one.

3) Westwood Presbyterian Church?  I'd gone to the Maundy Thursday service there and was deeply moved by the brief meditation spoken by the Reverend Dr. Lynn Cheyney, who is head pastor there.  Bingo--WOMAN PASTOR.  I may not have a woman president, but for an hour or two I can have a woman pastor.  Both St. A's and Westwood were guaranteed to have wonderful music from the choir with a small orchestra.

I've visited there several times since November 8, but twice I was jarred by one of the associate pastors rising to give the sermon.  I'd come specifically for the comfort of a woman preaching, so the sound of a male voice drove me out.  I quietly left in tears.

The quality of the meditation on Thursday was the deciding factor.  Why torture myself on Easter?  Just go for the joy.

 I was not disappointed.  All three services-- 8 am, 9:30, and 11 am-- offered fine choral music accompanied by two trumpets. two trombones, violin, and drum.  

Best of all, I watched a female pastor march in, trailed by two male assistants.  And she spoke for only 13 minutes--each of them golden.

Here's how the service went:

  • "Resurrection Prelude from Symphonie-Passion pour Grand Orgue" [Organ], Op. 23 by Marcel Dupre played by Dr. Namhee Han, organist and pianist.

  • "Prelude" from the soundtrack to the 1953 film The Robe written by Alfred Newman

  • "Song of Resurrection" from The Robe sung by Nandani Maria Sinha

  • "Resurrection Fanfare" by Maria Newman, Composer and Choir Director

  • "Jesus Christ Is Risen Today" sung by all of us. -- I was pleased that we sang the newer, more inclusive words Jesus Christ is risen today / Our triumphant holy day / Alleluia! rather than the older version Christ our Lord is risen today / Sons of men and angels say / Alleluia!  Both St. A's and Westwood Pres sang these words, probably BPC too, so I would have been safe on this count at any of the three Easter services.  

  • Readings of Scripture, confession of faith, passing the peace

  • "Worthy Is the Lamb" from the Messiah by Georg Friederich Handel

  • "The Day of Resurrection" sung by all of us.

  • Prayers

  • "My Eternal King" by Jane Marshall (b. 1924) performed by the choir. --  I enjoyed hearing this fascinating and difficult anthem composed by a woman.

  • Easter Meditation by Pastor Lynne Cheyney  -- This humorous but profound 13-minute reflection moved me to tears.  I will provide a link to the full text when I get it or else type from my notes.

  • "Alleluia" by Randall Thompson (1899-1984).

  • Offering

  • "I Danced in the Morning" --  In this delightful song written in 1963 Sydney Carter takes the tune of "Tis a Gift To Be Simple" and writes Jesus's life as dance. We sang "with the devil on your back" as originally written, but some performers change it to "the world on your back."  I first sang it with women at Women-Church Convergence.

  • Benediction -  Pastor Lynn repeated the last line of her sermon: "Live resurrection.  Do resurrection.  Be in the resurrection."

  • "Hallelujah Chorus" from Handel's Messiah.  

  • Postlude -- "Resurrection Toccata" from Symphonie-Passion Pour Grand Orgue [Organ], Op. 23 by Marcel Dupre.

I left church uplifted and filled with the intention to "Live... do... be in the resurrection."

You can't ask for more on Easter Sunday.  I made the right choice for me, led by the Holy Spirit, I'm sure.

Footnote:  I was a member of St. A's, but when the vestry decided to rent the church school facilities to the "Church" of Scientology, I left.  I fled to Brentwood Presbyterian, the church attended by my two younger kids during their high school years.  As of last summer, the Scientologists' lease expired, and St. A's did not renew it, so I now have the option of attending church there--except that during the interim eight years, I have made friends at BPC.

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