Friday, June 10, 2011

Easter Leftovers

Tonight is the last night of Passover, or was, since I neglected to post this entry in a timely fashion. Passover, as you may or may not know, is the Jewish holiday that overlaps with Easter because of the whole Last Supper thing. Passover is the silk thread of religious DNA that links the Judeo to the Christian heritage. It is worth noting that there are any number of 21st century Christians who are shocked to learn that Jesus was Jewish and his final meal was a seder.  
          In the interest of full disclosure, despite having a Jewish grandmother, I was raised an Episcopalian, probably one of the most notoriously anti-semitic of all the varietals. Second only to the Catholics. My Jewish grandma married a Catholic, so clearly, they didn't get the memo. Over the years, dinner conversations might have been quite lively, but, my father was a psychoanalyst, so not talking was usually the easiest way to get through meals with him. 
          Unlike Judaism, the five-thousand-year-old religion which gave us the Ten Commandments, membership in my hallowed, self-involved Episcopal sect began with a horny English King who was looking for a loophole in his pre-nup about five hundred years ago. Despite its unholy beginning, the Episcopal church has sunk its roots deep into English and American culture. 
          Across the pond, they insist on calling themselves Anglicans, for those of you keeping track. Anything to distance themselves from the Yanks. 
          Meanwhile, because Henry VIII was probably in such a rush to divorce his wives as fast as possible, the Episcopal/Anglican liturgy is virtually the same as the Catholic mass. Probably not enough time to make changes before the beheadings got underway. One notable exception to the sameness is the Lord's Prayer. The Catholics end their version early. Right after "...and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil," the prayer stops in its tracks. Episcopalians, on the other hand, who are inclined to embellish everything, opted for a big finish after deliverance from evil -- "For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever, amen!"  
          Just an FYI -- the Episcopal and Catholic churches are also so similar on the outside that you can't tell them apart until you go inside and see  • gasp •  female priests blessing the wine and those strange, taste-free wafers and preaching from the pulpit. Definitely not Catholic. 
          The rampant ironies in Christianity's 57 varieties do not escape me. Nor do the stereotypes.  Episcopal membership means that I'm 99% sure to be white, blond, and driving one of those suburban SUVs, sporting a hairdo that screams to be worn with large sunglasses, and talking on my iPhone. If I were married, my husband would look like Jimmy Stewart from It's a Wonderful Life. Our home would have a turret, our children would play soccer, and our dog would be a labradoodle. Years ago, in a moment of sharing stereotypes about our respective religions, I asked a Jewish friend how he could tell when a gentile family had moved into the neighborhood. He said, "When the wife is mowing the lawn."  
          Since my own wedding oh so many years ago, I've eschewed Sunday services whenever possible. Attendance for me is rare. Instead of spending Sunday mornings in church, I prefer watching Sunday Morning in bed. Props to the Catholics for having services at 5:00 PM Saturdays that cover your Sunday obligation. Best PR move they ever made. That and getting rid of fish on Friday. My Protestant mother, a nurse with nutrition training, thought having fish once a week was such a good idea, she adopted the Catholic Friday menu for our family. We also said the same grace. And our parish had a gay priest. 
          Not counting funerals and weddings, I've been to church only three times in the last seven years. The first time I went to my niece's baptism. The second time I went to her brother's baptism. And the third was this past weekend, when I went to her other brother's baptism.
          Unlike the Catholic church, which considers baptism a preventive measure, like a vaccine, to be performed as quickly as possible following a baby's birth, the Episcopal church considers baptism a form of fraternity hazing. Something to endure to become a member of an exclusive club. Complete with WASP certification papers at the end. No hurry. But doing it sometime before the little rascals are potty trained has been suggested. Like circumcision, it's probably better to have no memory of the experience. 
          With only three children scheduled to be baptized into the fold, I thought we would be in and out in no time. But not when the event is scheduled for the Saturday night before Easter. Plenty of people showed up, no doubt so they could sleep in the next morning. 
          To make sure everyone got their money's worth, the service was conducted by the light of flickering white candles we each held in our hands. Plus every prayer and supplication was sung in its entirety from beginning to end. And all were invited to come up and kneel at the railing, if not for communion, to at least have a blessing. We were getting the full monty.
          Yes, the candles were beautiful. Yes, the singing was pretty. But the melted wax sure was messy. And the dim light made reading the words of the songs nearly impossible. Not to mention what it was like making faces to keep my nephews and niece entertained. And my rear end from going numb. 
          During the Nicene Creed, I kept wondering how long is this going to last? During the Handshake of Peace, I wondered whether this fairly recent addition to the Episcopal service was also borrowed from the Catholic mass, or was its appearance just a well-timed coincidence, like Armageddon and Final Contact having the exact same plot?  
         Two hours. That's how long it took to get my three-year-old-almost-but-not-quite-potty-trained nephew baptized. 
         The good news is now he's a member of the tribe. The bad news is I'm sure I'll have to do this drill again. 
I'm gonna be an Episcopalian and you're not!


Landra said...

One of the last times I went to church was when my 42 year old daughter was 4 years old. She was upset that we didn't celebrate Easter. So I said, "OK, let's go to church." So we went to an Anglican church -- this was NYC in the 70s and the Episcopal church near us called itself Anglican. When it came time for communion, our friends who were actual Anglicans took her to the altar with them. Everyone else took communion while my daughter got blessed. On our way home, she asked me how long she'd stay blessed. I answered with the first thing that came to mind: "Until someone puts a curse on you." She has never forgiven me.

Mrs. L said...

Best answer ever, Landra.