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St. Paul's Cathedral displays a kind of unadorned majesty. Long green banners, tiny stations of the cross, and a couple of Madonna-and-child paintings are all that break up the great expanses of smooth, gray-green concrete around the narrow stained-glass windows. The walnut panels and brushed-metal organ pipes that grace the front of the church seem almost simple, as if trying to remain tasteful despite their grand scale. The altar cloth is richly embroidered, but in muted tones. Only the raised pulpit -- complicated carved wood yielding up figures of the Evangelists and the crucified Christ -- is ornate. But once the bell tolled and the people rose, the music became its own sort of adornment. Layers upon layers of swelling organ, verse after verse of the hymns, led by the choir but amply followed by the congregation. They sang harmonies on the Gradual Psalm, the organ building and receding in dramatic fashion: "My soul is athirst for the living God/when shall I come to appear before the presence of God? My tears have been my food day and night/while all day long they say to me, 'Where now is your God?'" They sang the "Creed," sang Schubert's "Sanctus" and "Agnus Dei," sang the "Our Father," even sang some of the liturgical responses.

The liturgy provided further grandeur. A parade of men and women in white cassocks followed the choir down the aisle -- candle- and cross-bearers, servers, vergers, attending priests, assisting clergy, and finally, in a cream chasuble, the presider: Reverend Canon Joan Butler Ford. At the reading of the Gospel, Reverend Dorothy Curry removed the silver-coated book from its pillow on the altar and bore it down the center aisle. Before her walked a verger -- his director's wand resting on his left shoulder -- a book-bearer, and two candlebearers. A man with a thurible followed, the incense curling into the air above the throng.

Sunday's liturgy celebrated the feast of St. Mary Magdalene, and the Gospel recounted her discovery of the risen Christ on Easter morning. "They have taken away my Lord," she cries in the cemetery, "and I do not know where they have laid him." Jesus comes to her and tells her, "Go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'"

The Reverend Canon Jack Lindquist mounted the pulpit for the homily. "Speaking just for myself -- after hours and hours of wading through New Age gobbledygook about Mary Magdalene in The Da Vinci Code , I think it's wonderful to meet this woman again as a real person in today's Gospel.... At the end of today's Gospel, Jesus 'apostled' her...he sent her on a mission with a message to speak in the sender's name. The ancient Christian writer Tertullian extolled her as...'the apostle to the apostles.'"

Lindquist continued, "You didn't have to be one of the 12 to be an apostle.... Today's Gospel is when women entered into the apostolic succession of the church's ministry. Here, at the very beginning -- it couldn't happen any earlier!"

A subdued laugh rose from the congregation. "Would being a woman somehow invalidate that apostolate? Yes, it would -- if you were an idiot." The subdued laugh gave way to hearty chuckles and applause. "All Christian preaching begins when Jesus 'apostles' Mary Magdalene, and so we pray that Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori may truly be her successor."

Then he returned to Mary Magdalene before she saw the risen Lord, when she was still bereft. "The very worst fears on Mary's list have taken place, and she seems forever separated from God.... Now, she is really ready for Easter.... If she and the other disciples had not seen the risen Lord, had not eaten and drunk with Him after he rose from the dead...I can assure you that there would have been no Christian gospel. There would have been no memory of Jesus in the world today."

Lindquist closed by noting that Mary Magdalene recognized Jesus when He called her by name. "That's how the risen Lord is calling each and every one of us, seeking a personal relationship with us.... The crucified and victorious one is coming to us in Holy Communion today, that we might receive him into our hearts and lives as master."

During the announcements, it was noted that "whoever you are, wherever you are in your journey of faith, please know that you are most welcome to participate in everything we do here." And at Ford's liturgical invitation -- "The gifts of God for the people of God" -- the congregation approached, knelt, and received Communion.

What happens when we die?

"I would refer you back to Jack's wonderful sermon," said Ford. "As God is always with us here, then God is going to be with us when we die. I firmly believe that."

St. Paul's Cathedral

2728 Sixth Avenue, Bankers Hill




Denomination: Episcopal

Founded locally: Cathedral completed in 1951

Senior pastor: Scott Richardson

Congregation size: 800

Staff size: 7

Sunday school enrollment: 25--30, plus around 30 in a chorister program for both boys' and girls' choirs

Annual budget: over $1 million

Weekly giving: n/a

Singles program: no

Dress: semi-dressy, with lots of collars on shirts and plenty of skirts and dresses

Ethnic diversity: mostly Caucasian, some African-American, Hispanic, and Asian-American

Sunday worship: English, 8 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.; Spanish, 9:05 a.m. (in the chapel); Evensong, 5 p.m.

Length of reviewed service: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Website: stpaulcathedral.org

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