The Gospel According to Saturday Night Live

snl40I enjoy Saturday Night Live. It is one of the earliest shows I can remember watching. I’m sure my parents must have known that I was watching the show in my room on a small black and white TV, but bless them, they let me. Naturally I tuned in last night to see most of the 40th Anniversary special, and watched the rest on DVR this morning. I even downloaded their app.

The real surprise for me came today as I read some reviews of the tribute. I had to do a double-take to make sure I wasn’t reading something about the Church! Substitute a word here and there and you have fitting commentary on many congregations in North America. I think this parallel serves both as critique and applause, just as it did for SNL

The New York Times’ Alessandra Stanley wrote:

It’s also never as good as we remember it being. In real time, critics and viewers are always bemoaning how not-quite-funny-enough it is. And then, years later, the same voices complain that the current seasons and casts aren’t as good as previous ones.

Likewise, congregations were always better yesterday, for both pastors and laypeople. We never seem to know how good we have it in the moment.

Ross Miller from The Verge wrote:

The big point of SNL40 wasn’t to say that it’s the funniest or most poignant sketch show — it’s not, and SNL knows it. With its relentless production schedule, duds are bound to happen. (As creator Lorne Michaels famously put it, “We don’t go on because we’re ready, we go on because it’s 11:30.”) But even its most-criticized seasons have enough bright spots and stand-out moments that SNL can package a “best of season X” collection and have it look really good.

As a preacher I know that this sentiment is all too true. I once had a preacher with 55 years of preaching experience tell me, “I never finished a sermon. Time just ran out.” It’s greatly comforting that one’s effort can have an impact purely from faithfulness over time, and the value of a preacher, or a sketch, doesn’t have to be measured by overnight ratings.

Finally, Hank Stuever, from the Washington Post reported:

The point of the star-studded event, mainly, was baby boomer self-regard (it has never seemed more possible that some of the names on Lorne Michaels’s A-list, maybe even Michaels himself, might not be with us when the 50th anniversary rolls around), with subsequent generations of “SNL”-ers offering the usual lionizing praise to their elders. They’re old, you’re old, we’re all old;
‘SNL 40’: Maybe a four-hour clip job would have been better.

As I’ve said something similar before, if I could get 50 new people under 30 to regularly attend my congregation, I would be famous in preacher circles. It appears that even the biggest stars and the brightest show biz executives run into the same demographic conundrums. But let’s celebrate what we can.

There were other quotes and one-liners that easily translate to church. One such connection was how SNL is linked to the specific place of New York. Congregations are typically rooted in specific place. Another similarity is how we look back to the lives of the saints no longer with us. Perhaps you could add your own parallels in the comments.

I think what comedy and the Gospel have in common is that they are both attempts to see the world from a different more truthful perspective. Now, it seems that we share a little more too: split audiences, aging demographics, and a vision that only becomes visible over time. So here’s to what Eugene Peterson calls, “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.” Cheers SNL.

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