Millions of people tuned in last week to watch the memorial services for former President George H. W. Bush. The first service took place at Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, Dec. 5, and the second took place the next day at President Bush’s home church, St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston. Each service was exquisitely beautiful from start to finish, replete with glorious music, sacred prayers and heartfelt speakers who extolled the many virtues of a man who dedicated his life to public service.
As an Episcopal priest, I enjoyed watching the ceremonies, but what really caught my attention was people’s responseto witnessing the memorial services. All across social media and news outlets around the nation, people were praising the beauty of these services, trying to find words for the sense of awe it stirred within them.
It is old news now that church attendance and religious affiliation in this country are in steep decline. So when people are buzzing about church, I pay attention. It was the same way after the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle last May. Yes, we all loved seeing Ms. Markle’s stunning wedding dress and the colorful array of fascinators. But in the weeks following the wedding, the buzz wasn’t just about the royal family’s sartorial sensibilities. People were buzzing about church — about Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s fiery sermon about the power of love, about the hauntingly beautiful hymns, about the impressive solemnity of hearing those timeless vows: “With my body, I honour you, all that I am I give to you and all that I have I share with you.”
Our nation’s enthusiastic appreciation of both the royal wedding and the presidential funeral tell us something important. People are longing for something. And I’m here to argue that that something is liturgy.
Christian Liturgy is a public service of worship, a communal gathering that reflects and enacts the sacred ordering of the universe by God. Liturgy is traditional; it has been handed down to us from generation to generation. When you go into a Sunday church service, a wedding, or a funeral, you are participating in liturgy. Liturgy is praying, singing, proclaiming, listening, confessing, and communing together. When we participate in liturgy, we bring our whole selves — body, mind, and spirit — into the presence of God, where God can transform us.
The royal wedding in May and President Bush’s funeral this week were two beautiful liturgies captured on camera for all the world to see. But the best part is this: You don’t have to be a royal or a president to take part in the beauty and meaning you witnessed in those services. All around the world, faithful communities stand ready and waiting for you to come join them in worshiping God through the sacred beauty of liturgy.
Those solemn and hope-filled words spoken over President Bush’s body were not written specially for him. His body and soul were commended to God in the same way as every person ever buried in an Episcopal church service. The burial liturgy honors the dignity of every human being, whether they were a famous president or someone whom the world considered unimportant, whether the service takes place in a vast televised cathedral or in a small parish in Guadalupe County, whether there are six people in the pews or 600 That is one of the many wonderful things about liturgy: it reminds us that, in the eyes of God, each and every person is valuable and beloved.
If you have never given church a try, or if it has been a while, please, come to St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church this Sunday. I cannot promise that the service will go perfectly. But I can assure you that amazing things happen when we choose to bring our whole selves into the presence of God.
Reverend Alex Easley Holloway, Rector, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church