This last Good Friday I "attended" two services, and, although I am a Baptist to such a degree that when I bleed I leave a "trail of blood," (that was said more of an excuse for a bad joke than anything; I do not embrace Landmarkism), both of the services were Presbyterian.
The first service was around 11 am where I listened to the webcast from Tenth Presbyterian, where Phillip Graham Ryken is the pastor. The music was excellent. The congregation sang "Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted," and a few other numbers. I noticed that the pastoral prayer was fairly lengthy. My current pastor is a big fan of P. G. Ryken, and I think I could pick out little ways in which Ryken has influenced him (just a hunch, mind you). The sermon was excellent, and the center of the service. Ryken preached on the end of Galatians 6, and explained how the Law cannot save, and its connection to circumcision, which I found really ironic coming from a Presbyterian. Not that they believe that infant baptism (which is for them circumcision's replacement) saves the infant in any way, but since they reduce entrance into the New Covenant down to an external rite like infant baptism, I just found the points he was making in the sermon interesting in that context. I suppose these remarks are a bit counter-productive, because I thought the sermon was wonderful and an excellent communication of the gospel that would be intelligible to both regenerate and unregenerate alike.
The second service was over in St. Paul, at a liberal Presbyterian church well-known for its superb arts calendar (I am hoping to go over again this Sunday afternoon for an all-Bach organ concert). This church has at least three great pipe organs, two in the sanctuary alone, and another in what they call a "chapel." The sanctuary is quite large and has beautiful stained glass. I am hoping that I get to pastor in this church building in the Millennium (there are a few others like it that I'd settle for as well). This was a full Good Friday service, but the key feature was what ended the progam–a complete "performance" of Faure's Requiem. The service began with Bach's organ chorale of "O Sacred Head," and then had a wonderful setting of an old German folk chant for Angus Dei (sung in English). Then the congregation sang "Ah, holy Jesus," and a little later "O Sacred Head."
The sermon (or, as it was titled in the order of service, "meditation) was a bunch of mush. From what I remember, it seemed to encourage man to "pull himself up by his bootstraps," and made Jesus more of an example for us to imitate in our own suffering than anything else. The gospel was void, of course. The problem with the sermon was more what wasn't said than what was. My wife and I were in attendance, really, to hear Faure. The music was beautiful, but I could not help wondering if it fit the words. And why a Requiem, really? What does that have to do with Jesus' death? The only thing I can imagine is that Jesus grants his saints rest on the basis of his death, but I am skeptical whether that connection was intended, and do not believe it fit the occasion nonetheless. But back to the music. Some have said that this is a requiem without the Last Judgment. My LP of the work cites Charles Koechlin observing of Faure, "that the indulgent and fundamentally good nature of the master had as far as possible to turn from the implacable dogma of eternal punishment." For example, the Agnus Dei is sublime, in my opinion. But it is far too cheerful to be sung to that text. I believe that Sanctus, in a similar way, is lacking the gravity necessary for the words to which it is sung. The actual performance of the piece, over all, was nearly perfect to my ear (the solo violin on Sanctus had a couple slips), but had central place for the service.
One thing I really liked at this latter service was its conclusion. There was a note in the program to leave the santuary in silence after the performance. After the last note was sung, the elder who preached walked down the center aisle, and out the doors, then the congregation left. There was no clapping nor applause of any kind. We had just heard a well-known and beautiful piece of music well performed, but no kind of recognition of this was expressed by the congregation at all. Just silence.