No doubt most of you have seen something in the news about this year’s Met Gala, “where a parade of stars and fashionistas swanned about in costumes inspired by the aesthetics of Catholicism, while a wide variety of genuinely Catholic articles, from vestments to tiaras, were displayed in a Met exhibit titled “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination.””
The sights were exceedingly weird. The Patriot quarterback Tom Brady wore a tuxedo that looked like he was auditioning to be a magician in Atlantic City, while Rihanna wore very little, really, paired with a sparkly silver bishop’s mitre, which was, if we’re being honest, nicer than most of the mitres our actually bishops wear.
I’m of at least two minds when it comes to all this. I’m not delighted with the borderline blasphemy of some of the outfits, and I certainly don’t like using Catholicism as a theme of a debaucherous party. But I do like that Catholicism – and we can lump classical Anglicanism in here too – is weird enough to inspire such a thing.
The Church, when viewed by modern eyes, is gorgeously weird. Just last Sunday we celebrated the Spring Rogation, during which a whole bunch of us circumambulated the churchyard, chanting and following a person swinging a smoking pot. Most of the comments we got on the pictures of the procession were about the cope and biretta I was wearing, beautiful things that technically went out of secular style in the fourth century.
Just in case you thought the Church has gotten weirder over the years, take heart, she was always pretty strange. The reading today from the Acts of the Apostles makes that case rather clearly.
In it, Peter calls a meeting of the gathered Church, about 120 people. Just a few days before, Jesus had ascended into heaven, and it was time to find a replacement for Judas. St. Luke recorded the proceedings, and right in the middle of Peter’s opening speech, Luke felt the need to remind his readers who Judas was, primarily by recording his death, apparently caused by all his guts falling out. But that’s not even the strangest thing in this story. The strange thing is Judas’ replacement, Matthias.
Nowadays, a church trying to find a replacement for an ordained leader is a crushing task. In the case of replacing a rector, it can sometimes take months just to find an interim to fill the void, and many more months to find and call a priest. 18 months is the assumed time frame, but it can take much longer. The search usually starts with a parish questionnaire and profile, then moves on to reviewing resumes and a series of skittery Skype interviews, then background checks, visits to the candidates parishes, negotiations, on and on and on.
Way on the other side of the spectrum was the process of choosing an Apostle. An Apostle. Luke tells us that whoever would be chosen to fill Judas’ spot had to be from among those who had been following Jesus all along – that was the only requirement. Two candidates fit the bill – Barsabbas and Matthias. They’re chosen from amongst the group and the group gets to praying. “No interview. No whittling down of a long list of candidates. No vote. Just prayer.
“Jesus’ first followers recognize that God knows Barsabbas, Matthias and, in fact, everyone’s hearts better than they do. Since they want their choice to align with God’s choice for a new apostle, they beg God to show them which one (He) chooses. Trusting that God will graciously show them (His) choice when they cast lots, they cast lots and find that they fall to Matthias. God adds him to the eleven apostles.
“A couple of little details are striking about this account. It isn’t just that Matthias appears neither before nor after Acts 1:26. He may not even be in the room when he’s elected to replace Judas! We might infer that the apostles don’t even ask him if he’s willing to serve in that position.” That’s wildly weird! And it’s also how we’re going to start electing vestry members, by the way, so watch out.
If the Church seems a little weird, it’s because we are and will always be out of step with the world. And we’re out of step with the world because the world is out of step with God, and so what we do while we do our best to pursue God can make for some interesting sights, some odd things. Things like being kind to people, even when they’re annoying. Things like going out of your way to help people, walking beside the friendless, enduring suffering with dignity, caring for the widow and the orphan. Things like submitting your will to God’s will, witnessing to something and someone greater than you, or learning to recognize and even crave the appalling strangeness of the mercies of God. To many, the things that come out of our faith, from the fancy vestments to the values and actions that set us apart, may seem strange. But I think it’s all beautiful.