Anglican sublime, Anglican ridiculous

By Richard Helmer

This has certainly been one of the strangest weeks in the Episcopal Church I can remember. Whether it was a pie thrown at a priest, letters ostensibly missed in the mail between Primates, or public flailing to find reasons for and against schismatic acts, the universe, fate, or perhaps even God seemed to be whimsically poking fun at our games of polity, power, and control.

We Anglicans all ended up looking a bit silly.

Nothing, it seems to me, could be more appropriate.

Years into entrenched positions and angry rhetoric, The Episcopal Church as a whole wrestles to move forward with mission, while some leadership in the Anglican Communion tries to obsess over human sexuality and notions of orthodoxy. It is all too damned serious.

We must all learn to laugh more at what is unimportant. And even more critically to laugh even at that which we seriously regard as important.

Martin Luther, amongst his stranger writing, quips: “The best way to get rid of the Devil, if you cannot kill it with the words of Holy Scripture, is to rail at and mock him.”

Do we see the devil in each other in the current mess? Or perhaps the devils in ourselves reflected in each other? Or a bit of both?

Take it from Luther, someone who spent part of his life taking his faith and salvation much too seriously: laugh at the devil.

The insults, abuse, and hard words we have delivered and endured these past few years are a result of taking one another much too seriously. Even worse, ourselves. And that is borne, it seems to me, of the sin of pride.

And we too often take the Church much too seriously. However divinely inspired, like most institutions, it is often hamstrung by human hubris. God’s grace is surely greater than that. The true Church has yet to be fully revealed, and Anglicans of whatever stripe have no monopoly in it.

One psalmist wrote: “He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord has them in derision.” The second psalm is overtly political in tone, as it refers to powers and principalities who stand against the People of God. But our foolishness is in assuming we know who the People of God are. Or even worse assuming we are they, when we behave too often like the peoples who “plot in vain against God and the anointed,” trying to break relationship with each other when relationships in God’s universe can at most only be changed, never truly severed. God has us in derision if anyone at all. And of all the laughter, God’s is the hardest for us to bear, because it the greatest salvific gift for our prideful, overly serious lives.

It is Eastertide. We must remember what that means. The bonds of death have been broken. The maw of hell has been shattered. The gates of heaven have opened like a flower. Love has won already. The People of God have been freed. God has had the last laugh.

We best learn from God again to laugh at death in each other and in ourselves. It is passing away. God is indeed making all things new. Our souls are not our own. They belong to God in Christ. And so we have nothing and no one, in the end, to truly fear.

This little episode in Anglican and Episcopal history, flying pies and archbishops included, ridiculous and sublime, will pass. And the real work of the Church will continue with the fruits of the Spirit – laughter included – that laughter that is part of the language of grace.

The Rev. Richard E. Helmer, is rector of Church of Our Saviour, Mill Valley, Calif. He writes about spirituality, ministry, Anglicanism, and church politics at Caught by the Light.


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