The Joy of the Good News of Christ
January Message from the Pastor
I am looking forward to spending eight weeks with you using the themes from the Musical “Godspell” for our sermon series in January and February. This musical, which opened in 1971 Off Broadway, has been performed in so many places and cities. It has inspired people to engage the teachings of Jesus in fresh ways. This was the original intention of the musical which came at a difficult time for the Church in the United States. According to a 2011 New York Times article by Mark Oppenheimer, “At the time American religion was in a profound state of flux. The pews were emptying out, and children especially were disappearing from mainline Christianity. Vocations to the Catholic priesthood were cratering, and from 1963 to 1972 the number of American Catholics going to Mass declined from about three quarters to half (and kept falling). To take one startling statistic, Episcopal church school enrollment fell by a quarter from 1965 to 1971, the year ‘Godspell’ made its debut Off Broadway. John-Michael Tebelak, who conceived and first directed the show, was himself an Episcopalian who later flirted with the priesthood… His church’s pews, even more than most, were vacant. Young people wanted to leave the church, but not all of them wanted to abandon Christianity. Many wanted to return to a more primitive expression of their faith, and they reimagined Jesus as an accessible hippie, a cool friend rather than an object of veneration.” This musical is a good reminder for us that we must reimagine Jesus for our time and our own context.
The compelling message of this musical for us today is the overall sense of joy when people experience the teachings and presence of Jesus. The title “Godspell” is an old English spelling of the word gospel which comes from the Greek and means “Good News.” Because we live in a world that is jaded by fear and violence, we often miss out on the joy of the Good News of Jesus. In a world where there are so many protests and anger against injustice, this musical has profound messages for us about life and faith. Using some of the parables of Jesus, “Godspell” shows us the joy they bring to a group of friends who take turns singing and acting out these beautiful stories until the end when Jesus gets betrayed and executed. Nothing prepares us for the senselessness of the crucifixion of Jesus. It just happens at the end of the musical without a clear logical connection to the parables about joy, forgiveness, morality, and faithfulness. There’s no anticipation or foreshadowing! All the goodness and joy which Jesus brought is met with betrayal and violence.
I think that the juxtaposition of the joy of the parables and the violence of the cross is the real power of this musical. It shows us the radical nature of the good news of Jesus. The joy he brought to the world was so liberating that it threatened the systems of fear and violence that were in place.
I pray that the “Godspell” sermon series will inspire us to open our hearts and minds in new ways to the power of the good news of God’s love. When we are able to see the contradiction between God’s joy and the fear and violence of our current human systems and egos, then we can begin to let go of the things that keep us hostage and stuck. As long as we follow Christ’s path of joy, we will continue to dismantle the powers of hate, fear, and violence.
Pastor Roula Alkhouri