In the Lectionary

January 6, Epiphany of the Lord A (Matthew 2:1-12)

It must have been a strange sight: grown adults, prostrate before a toddler.

For five unusual days in September, a queue stretched ten miles across London. Through the night, in the cold, clutching cups of tea, befriending the strangers who waited alongside them, 250,000 people waited to view the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II. Some queued out of grief, some from curiosity; some came because waiting patiently in line for more than 24 hours seemed like the most British act possible, a kind of patriotic performance art.

At last, one by one, they entered Westminster Hall. A live­stream showed them looking around, wide-eyed, at the majestic architecture and the glittering crown jewels atop the casket. They took turns filing forward to stand before the catafalque. Each one paused for a moment in silence, and then, in a gesture more medieval than modern, in unrehearsed sincerity and earnest awkwardness, they bowed or curtsied.

I grew up in New England, where the American Revolution feels like family history. Even 245 years later, we pride ourselves on our role in rejecting monarchy. Curtsies to the queen were definitely not part of my formation. And Congregationalists don’t bow to anything else, either. We’ll stand up for hymns, but we make no other liturgical gestures: no genuflection, no kneeling.