This weekend, I left New England and my boys behind to drive down to New Jersey to watch my brother graduate (again). This degree was his Master of Divinity — the degree needed by a Presbyterian in order to pursue ordination as a Minister of the Word and Sacrament. (Technical note: you don’t actually BECOME a Minister until you find a church that wants you to come and minister to them. It’s a bit like a marriage. Both parties have to be present for a wedding to take place, and for an ordination for ministry to take place. So if you happen to know a nice Presbyterian church in search of a young, energetic pastor fluent in Latin and Greek, I can hook you up.)
It was a bit of a throwback weekend for me. I was with parents and sibling, but without my children. I was a bit mobility limited, due to what is technically referred to as “a busted knee”*, which was a pity because the Princeton campus was lovely, the weather was lovely and would have richly rewarded wandering. Also, my brother’s room required significant work to clean out, and the best I could do was to supervise. We got to appreciate all my brother’s favorite food hangouts, which were surprisingly quite tasty.
The graduation ceremony itself was rather momentous. It was scheduled to conclude right when the rapture was supposed to take place. I reckoned there were worse places to be found at the moment of judgement than in a graduation ceremony that was more than half worship service. The ‘chapel’ was an imposing cathedral. The brass choir, seminary choir and vast pipe organ filled it with sounds ethereal and stentorian. We, the assembled congregation (it really was a congregation, not a crowd) sang all seven verses of “All Creatures of Our God and King”. If you thought there were only five verses, so did I. The fifth verse is ok, but the sixth verse downright funereal:
And thou, most kind and gentle death,
Waiting to hush our latest breath,
Thou leadest home the child of God,
And Christ our Lord the way hath trod:
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
That sober tone threaded through the graduation ceremony. In a high school or undergraduate graduation, there is a sense of rowdiness, celebration, accomplishment and future wonder. With this graduation, there was more a sense of hard work and challenge begun than of hard work and challenge accomplished. As we walked out, my mother said, “It reminded me of when we were commissioned as missionaries. You know that some of those who have gone before you became martyrs.” There were three graduates from Myanmar, to return to that country. Martyrdom is, perhaps, not so remote a possibility for them. There was also a sense swirling in the air of the changes to the church that this next generation will face. The ways we have worshiped together over the past centuries are not working as well in this new millennium, and even the oldest and most dignified of the the church fathers and mothers know it. Yesterday they commissioned my brother, and his classmates, to fearlessly find a new way to worship God and tell the old old story in a new new way.
Still, it wasn’t a depressing service, just a serious one. There was one moment that I’d been looking forward to for three years. You see, my brother has two middle names. If you say his full name, you say a (modified) version of the first four books of the New Testament (the Gospels). My brother has gone by the nickname Gospel for years. As his name was read, though, a chuckle spread through the crowd. If any crowd would get his full name, it was this one! Perfect.
Today, we went to church at Six Mile Run Reformed Church (where my brother has worshiped for three years), put together a masterful logistical plan for getting everyone where they needed to go, wished my brother and his girlfriend safe travels in their cross country tour, and went our ways. Next up: camping!
*My knee is actually super much more better. I went to the Orthopedic surgeon on Thursday afternoon, and he pronounced my injury a sprained ligament (can’t remember which one), and strained calf and hamstring muscles. So bad, but temporary. It’s already hugely better, and recovery will be a matter of days to weeks, instead of weeks to months. I already had my first PT session, and I have significant range of motion back. So that’s good! But I didn’t want to push it by overextending.