Dear Friends in Christ,
In the strange but beautiful production Hadestown, audiences are plunged into something of a New Orleans prohibition era gin joint that is simultaneously the proscenium of Greek antiquity, retelling the two tragic myths of Hades and Persephone as well as the lesser known story of Eurydice and Orpheus. As I watched the play on a recent trip to New York, I was heartened and disturbed at turns as the story explored the tension between themes like beauty and brutality, love and regret, and, especially, madness and hope. As we stand here on the precipice of late winter peering ahead into spring, it is easy to enjoy the story particularly of Persephone who each year returns from the Underworld, from her annual visit with her lover Hades, and in so doing, bringing hope and rebirth, releasing the world from its wintry death, inaugurating spring and new life. For the ancient Greeks the seasons could be traced by Persephone’s departing and returning. So it is that when the Christian calendar maps loosely onto this larger drama of the change of seasons, it is easy to view the Christian narrative like the pagans, as a natural and always recurring cycle. There is life and death and the story repeats. The story is, as Hermes reminds his audience, an “Old story…a tragic story.” But we sing it again. There’s a stirring note in this assertion, that the story is worth hearing anew, hoping that something can change, if not for the tragic characters in it, then for us. But, such an expectation lingers on the knife’s edge of hope and madness. Is it not madness to repeat the same thing over and over again expecting a different outcome?
But, the Christian story is not just about a recurring cycle of death and rebirth – of love and loss and love again. The Christian story, while following a pattern of recurring cycles is a story with a definitive beginning and a definite end. Our story starts with the clear words “In the beginning…” and unfolds a passionate yet nuanced and complicated story of a God who yearns for relationship with God’s creation, who enters into it, who seeks out people to accomplish God’s purposes, who is always calling God’s people to transformation and growth. The story ends with all things finding their homing and bliss in the presence and unity of God’s self. And, this story is told fully in the one life and one body of Jesus of Nazareth, who, as our own John the Evangelist proclaims, “was in the beginning with God,” and whose death upon the cross marked the end of all things, inaugurating a new possibility of life with God forever, here, now, and in the life to come.
We encounter death and resurrection each year in the recurring cycle, but the One we encounter is inviting us into a way of life that means we and the world will never be the same, will never be as we left it. The story changes because we are brought into it. It is not a tragic tale. It is a tale of power and new life, if we were only to claim it. As former Archbishop of Canterbury once told an audience, “If the world as it now is, after the Resurrection of Jesus, doesn’t look like the Kingdom, it’s because we have decided not to live as if the Kingdom were real.”
The only tragedy in the Christian story is the way in which the baptized often despair of the world as it is, believing that it is always thus, that we have no agency to participate in the Resurrection of Jesus. For, nothing is further from the truth. Christ is raised, and we with Him. And in Jesus’ Resurrection we have seen a new way of being with one another and with the world God made. Throughout our church communications, I hope you hear some of the ways that you are being invited to transformation, and ways you are being beckoned into the kingdom inaugurated by the Resurrection of Jesus. Now that is a story I would happily sing again!
I will see you in worship!