One thing I love and value about St. Nicholas is our ability to laugh at ourselves.
Last Sunday at the 11:00am service, the liturgy threw us a curveball. Typically, after the reading from the Old Testament, we have a Psalm, which is numbered by its verses and is relatively easy to read responsively by half or whole verse. This past Sunday, being the second Sunday in Advent, the lectionary put in a Canticle, or song from Scripture, the Song of Zechariah from Luke. There were no numbered verses, only those blasted asterisks and periods! Our Eucharistic Minister, Diane Hinnant, called upon us to read the Canticle responsively, however, it just didn’t quite come together. Folks didn’t know where to stop and let Diane say her line. We fumbled and bumbled through about half of it.
I thought to myself, “Should we just power through?” After overlapping verses and confusing lines, should we just pretend we’re all not on the same page? I guess many churches do that. With their stiff liturgies and their solemn tones, many churches would just continue and not break a smile. It would be uncomfortable and just plain weird. In fact, my liturgics professor would encourage us to not draw attention to the fact that we were out-of-step.
Instead, I stood up and made light of it, encouraging us to start over. When that didn’t work and we were still off, it just became hilarious. Diane, with her perfect timing, said, “Let us read Canticle 16 in unison!” What a wonderful and joyous moment!
One thing I’ve learned in my years of ministry is that the liturgy is nothing if not hilarious sometimes. My first vivid memory of liturgy was in my home parish of Our Savior, Martinez, Georgia. On my family’s first visit there, we fumbled our way through the liturgy and got to the Psalm which was chanted. I had never heard chanting before. What tickled me was that they were trying to get about 459 words into one line of music with one breath. My sister and I chuckled. The liturgy is hilarious.
My fear is always that more traditional Episcopalians will be turned off by the laughter or the “breaking of character” in the service because it can seem disrespectful. But sometimes we just have to laugh. Laughter is a sign of a healthy and joyful congregation. It means we’re so saturated in the Spirit that we are pliant and flexible, not a dry, crispy, dead branch.
I count myself extremely blessed to be in a parish that knows how to laugh at ourselves. I’m grateful that Diane was such a good sport! I count myself blessed to be able to preach a sermon blindfolded or outside of the building. I count myself blessed to have children surround the altar and say “the darndest things.” I count myself blessed that I can acknowledge my own shortcomings with grace and humor. We are a joyful church! Thanks be to God!