Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Reflections on Evensong at Kings College

Last night, Emma and I went to Evensong at King’s College, Cambridge. King’s College is a grand place, full of lush green fields, fantastic stone buildings, and a glorious chapel. We joined the throng of tourists and went in. We sat in very individual booths facing one another. The service was completely ordered including the Nunc Dimittis and Magnifat from Luke’s Gospel. The choir was made up of men and boys accompanied by the organ. Apparently they have mixed and women’s choirs on other occasions. The singing was extraordinarily good, well practiced, full of harmonies and musical overlay. With the organ, if felt appropriate to the setting.

The readings were from the good old King James; entirely appropriate for Kings. The readers’ accents were wonderfully English, and with the old English of the KJV, it was classic; kind of a like being in a time warp. As I listened to the reading from Luke 14, I wondered why the ancient translators had changed the Greek Zeus into Jupiter, and Hermes to Mercury. I know they are equivalents, but why give preference to the Roman equivalents? It tears the text away from its moorings a little. I wondered how many people there truly believe what was said about God in Ps 147 and Luke’s account of miracle through Paul in Lystra. I wondered how many understood the social context – probably quite a few in Cambridge.

For part of the service we knelt. I liked that. I think all churches and not just Anglican should have kneeling seats. There is something actively humbling about doing so. We sing about doing it in our church, but few ever do. Kneeling seats would encourage an appropriate act of homage to God. Mind you, I had mine at a bad angle and didn’t fare too well! I got more than a little uncomfortable – I need to kneel more often!

We recited a version of the Apostle’s Creed which was great. We had to turn and face the front together for that. I noticed the boys knew it by heart. That was great. I am not sure how many of them really believe it; or how many of the crowd. But it is etched into the being of the boys and that can’t be bad.

With all the readings, wonderful songs, anthems, and warmth, I felt that the service had a powerful gentle evangelistic effect for those with ears to hear. For me, it was deeply comforting and touching.

I spent a lot of time thinking about the Apostles Creed. I pondered what was there and what is missing. God is mentioned as Father Almighty and creator, good. But, what about his work in sustaining the universe and providence? Jesus’ Sonship, Lordship, miraculous conception, birth, suffering, crucifixion, death, burial, descent to hell, resurrection, ascension, session, and judgment are mentioned. Again, great. But there is nothing about his earthly ministry and life. I wondered why Pilate is singled out for his death; no mention of the Jewish part in his death, which was significant. Perhaps it is politically incorrect to mention that. Then there is the question of whether Jesus went to hell. I thought, “if he did, as a still incarnate divine being, hell must be a place, as must heaven.” But the evidence for his descent into hell in the NT is very thin at best (not really there). The Spirit gets barely a mention in the creed, surely a few more lines would be good. I like the emphasis on the catholicity (universality) of the church, on unity God’s holy people together and with him (communion of the saints), forgiveness, resurrection, and eternal life. I feel the idea of mission should be there as basic to our faith. Still, saying the creed connects us with our heritage and tradition. It is also evangelistically challenging for seekers.

All in all the experience was great. I think such services have an important role in keeping alive, in a most historic and ascetically pleasing way, the faith. This is critical in a land where the forces of other spiritualities and secularism are powerful and in many places, threatening to drown the church. God is bigger than that though, and the gates of Hades will never prevail. 

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