Today was the memorial service for our beloved church sexton. At age 74, Jim was indeed the patriarch of a large loving spreading family. He is survived by wife, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, sisters, cousins, and many many friends. Many of this family, who are not regular members of our church, were understandably in attendance at the service.
While our church is blessed to have an ethnic mix that is not characteristics of many churches--Sunday morning service has been described as the most segregated hour in our nation--we are still a predominantly white church. We have African-American members, and we have Korean members, but still the bulk of our membership is white.
Of course, ethnic background and custom dictates a particular kind of language. The cadences of speech change depending on where you worship. You could walk into various houses of worship during customary worship times, and recognize with a fair degree of certainty where you are. We are Presbyterians--sometimes not kindly referred to as "God's frozen chosen." Ours is largely a liturgical worship style. It is rare--though not unheard of--for someone to say AMEN during a service. Or, should I say, for someone to say AMEN when it is not the end of a prayer.
So today, we heard quite a few AMENs.
What strikes me about this observation is that language to some extent shapes how we think about things. King James I of England knew this--so when he became King of England he commissioned a translation of the Bible. Contrary to popular opinion, the original transcription of Scriptures was not in King James English--but so much has the King James English insinuated itself into our English language consciousness that it is hard to think otherwise.
The story of this translation is fascinating, but not the subject here. You can read it in the wonderful book God's Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible. One of the outstanding features of the King James version is the glorification of kingship. As you read many passages, over and over again, the emphasis is on kingdom, kingship. (Pretty sneaky of KING James, eh?)
As our closing hymn today, we sang that lovely spiritual "Soon, and Very Soon, We are Going to Meet the King." Which, of course, got me to thinking--how interesting that in our country, a democracy without monarchy, we celebrate the concept of monarchy and enshrine in the text of hymns.
The language of faith has many other peculiar iterations than whether or not we honor kingship. I don't intend to explore all of those aspects now, but think about this, for example: The King James version presumes a three-tiered universe--heaven is above, earth in the middle, and hell below. Of course, we know the earth is round.
Oh the examples are too numerous. And I am still savoring the sweetness of a life remembered and celebrated. It is no stretch to believe that Jim, our sexton, has indeed gone to see the King.