Why the Episcopal Church? The Episcopal Church exists for people like me, and people quite different from me, of course. People who differ in race, ethnicity, background, social status, occupation, theology, and preferences of pizza toppings, but people who are similar in their commitment to the saving grace of God in Christ. I tried to compose a list, or an essay extolling the virtues of the Episcopal Church. However, I guess I am becoming a true Episcopalian, because all I could come up with was a story of when the church broke open my heart.
Three years ago, I was a fledgeling Christian searching for a new spiritual home. I was all atwitter with thoughts. The mystery of Christ entranced me, the mystery of a God who so loved the world--this crazy, messed-up, petty, polluted world and all of us crazy people in it--that he gave up his own son--a part of himself--to save it. Once I bought into this incredible story, then I wanted to experience it. I wanted to be knocked down by it, made quiet by it, brought to tears by it. I wanted the whole extravaganza. But, I was nervous.
What would I find there? Would they preach a message of the shame and guilt, hell-fire and damnation? Would I be welcomed? Would I hear from the pulpit that women should submit to men, or that homosexuality was a sin? Would someone ask me, “Do you accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior?” Any one of those things would have me running for the hills. Or, would I find the message of holy, catholic, loving grace for which I longed so desperately? For weeks, I sat on the edge of my seat, every Sunday, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
For the next few weeks of Lent, I attended church regularly. I figured that if I wanted the extravaganza of resurrection and redemption, the Episcopal Church at Easter was a great place to find it. Then, came Good Friday. As I sat in the darkened, bare church through the Gospel reading and the moving sermon, I was overcome. In the image of Jesus’s final sacrifice for all of mankind, I could see how those moments of grief, bound by love, were possible. I could see an image of the most powerful human being to ever walk the earth submitting to the evil of the world and experiencing excruciating pain, all the while with God holding him in the palm of his hand. Here I found the context for that mysterious idea of Anthony de Mello’s that “all is well, though things are a mess, all is well”. I had been looking for the answers to this for a long, long time. Of course, I have not really found the answers, merely a language and a context from which to ask the question.
But, all of this intellectual thinking wasn’t really what happened that night, in the dark, with hymns playing, as the congregation went forward to venerate the cross. What was happening was my eyes tearing, my throat closing up, and my heart breaking open. The only thought in my head was, “make me worthy of this sacrifice, Jesus.” I didn’t want to be made worthy so I could be saved, because Jesus already saved me. I longed to be worthy of the immense gift of God’s love. I knew something powerful was going on because I could hear the sounds of quiet crying all around me.
Why the Episcopal Church? There are other churches who celebrate Good Friday and teach a message of grace. But, my church is the church that wraps the message of saving, transforming, transcendent grace in beautiful symbols, poetic language, traditional liturgy, and inspirational music. Because of the Episcopal Church, my heart broke open to the transforming grace of God.