I had the privilege of attending graduation ceremonies at Church Divinity School of the Pacific. It was a beautiful event. Being a Presbyterian I had to face facts, the Episcopalians just do a better job at this sort of thing. There were women and men in full regalia, a brass quintet, and the requisite pomp and circumstance surrounding the reading of the Gospel text; it put us to shame, and that was before we got to the Eucharist. They pulled all the stops out for that: beautifully choreographed movements, excellent wine, and then there was the incense – lots of incense – waved to the north, the south, the east , and the west. Then each section of the congregation bowed and the incense was waved toward us, after which we bowed again. (I wonder if I could get away with doing that at my church . . . probably not.) I spoke to someone after the ceremony who said that after all these years celebrating it, the Eucharist gave her a sense of God’s steady, immovable presence even in the worst of times.
A Bishop from Ohio delivered the homily. It was excellent. He described the incredible mission challenge laid before the church in this time and place. He recited all those church death statistics that keep us preachers up at night. He finished with the call to engage in a radically new kind of ministry; he called us to look for the Spirit to do something so fresh that it will likely be hard for we traditionalists to recognize it. (At least that’s what I understood him to say.)
I’ve got to tell you, the juxtaposition of sermon and ceremony was mind boggling. All that incredibly beautiful tradition against the backdrop of a homily that correctly points toward its demise.