Last week the annual Met Gala took place. For those of you who don’t know what this is, and I have to admit, I was one of you until last week, it is more or less the Oscars of the fashion world. Each year, the event has a particular theme, and this year’s theme was Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination.
A quick Google Image search shows the most remarkable and extraordinary dresses and costumes, celebrating both fashion and in a way, the human body. Some costumes make explicit reference to Christianity, by including the mitres that Bishops wear, or by being covered with crosses. Ariana Grande even wore a gown printed with the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. For others, at least to me, the connection seems harder to make. In any case, it is far more fashionable than what I’m usually wearing!
Of course, as with anything out of the ordinary, some people were offended, and called the theme sacrilegious and offensive to their faith. Also, others, who are critical of the church, were offended by the Met glorifying Catholicism. So, I guess this shows, there will always be people complaining about something.
However, I also read an article, which I thought made an interesting point: that actually religion, and in this case particularly Catholicism or more generally Christianity could be inspired by the Met gala. The title of the article was ‘Make Catholicism Weird Again’.
I’m sure most of you here would agree that what we do in Chapel is a bit weird at times. The readings from John’s Gospel we are reading in this time between Ascension and Pentecost don’t always make much sense, they are what you could say a bit mystical.
Of course there is also Communion service itself. Listening to the language and depending on whom you ask, a during the Eucharist we are eating the body of Christ and drinking his blood. Can it get much weirder?
I would say, ‘probably not, but that’s exactly the point’. What we do in Church and in Chapel is inevitably a bit weird. And the religious term for that weirdness, I would suggest, is ‘mystery’. To me, human life, human experience contains so much we don’t know, we don’t understand, but yet is hugely significant.
I don’t mean that we don’t understand it, because we’re not clever enough yet, but we don’t understand it, because it is beyond what we as humans are ever able to grasp. I think that no matter how much progress we’ll make in science, there will always be times that we need something more to make sense of our experience. That something more can be for example music, poetry or literature. And yes, for me, worship, celebrating the Eucharist is part of that too.
Some may object that this weirdness makes the Church into a sect. A group of people with certain rituals, initiations, which are frankly just a bit weird. However, what makes the church different from a sect, is that the Church is universal. That is what we particularly remember at this time of year between Ascension Day last Thursday and Pentecost next Sunday. After Easter, Jesus appeared to his disciples, to a small group of people, but as he ascends to heaven, as he leaves, it becomes clear that this message is not just for the chosen few, but for everyone.
That is maybe why I think there is still a case to be made to have Chapel services for everyone on a Sunday in a place like Marlborough College. Because I think that it offers an opportunity to each of us to take something away from it. Whether it’s a moment of reflection, a particular sentence in the reading or prayers that strikes you, or the experience, the weirdness of eating the bread and drinking the wine.
So maybe, what I’d like to say to those of you who are sceptical is this: give weirdness a chance. Participate, try, experiment, even though you’re not quite sure. Your conclusion in the end may be well different from mine, but you won’t know until you’ve tried.
There is no obligation, but only opportunity.