Friday, April 10, 2009

Listening to Parsifal on Good Friday

Dan Whitmarsh offers an important post for today:

At any given moment, Jesus is never the most popular guy in the room; at any given moment, those who serve Jesus are the minority group reciting ancient texts and muttering about the deepest things of life, while the crowds are chasing after the ever-shifting winds of popularity and success. Our Savior started with a crowd; he ended up alone on a tomb. And he calls us to the same. Happy Good Friday, everybody.

Happy Good Friday?

That reminds me of the exchange between Gurnemanz and Parsifal in Wagner's opera:


Das ist Karfreitags-Zauber, Herr!
That is the magic of Good Friday, my lord!


O wehe, des höchsten Schmerzentags!
Da sollte, wähn' ich, was da blüht,
was atmet, lebt und wiederlebt,
nur trauern, ach! und weinen?

Alas for that day of utmost grief!
Now, I feel, should all that blooms,
that breathes, lives and lives anew
only mourn and weep!

Like Wagner's Parsifal, I have often wondered how such a day could be considered happy or good.

Gurnemanz explains that the wonder of Good Friday is that it is the undoing of the curse: wie Gott mit himmlischer Geduldsich sein erbarmt' und für ihn litt. "God with divine patience pitied and suffered for humanity." Hebrews 9 puts it even more graphically:

14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

By Act III , scene 1 of the opera, we see how Christ's sacrifice reverses the curse, and how every character is affected. But it is not an instantanous thing. Many years pass between Act II and this final act, wherein each character travels his or her long and solitary road of obedience until the divinely-intended order is restored.

"Our Savior started with a crowd; he ended up alone on a tomb. And he calls us to the same." Dan writes. We too are on a journey; a quest that will cost everything:

Philippians 3:8-11.
What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

But there comes a day when "somehow" happens. Christ's forgiveness finally penetrates and changes all creation. Gurnemanz is able to awaken Kundry, a wild, inconstant and damned character, from a deathly sleep. She arises speaking only two words, Dienen... dienen; "Let me serve... serve." Parsifal returns, baptizes Kundry, returns the Spear to the Knights, and reveals the Grail. All nature is renewed, all wounds healed, all fellowship restored.

That is Wagner's opera. Meanwhile, here we are in "real" life, waiting for the "somehow" to happen. A few of us gathered Thursday night around the Table, "already" but painfully aware of the "not yet." A few more of us gathered last night to hear the Passion story, leaving alone in silence.

In the Opera of Life, we are still in Act III, Scene One. Sunday we get to see Scene Two. And then--one day--the ultimate curtain will be torn, and the Composer will mount His stage:

Revelation 21
Then I saw "a new heaven and a new earth," for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Look! God's dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 'He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death' or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."

He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" Then he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true."

He said to me: "It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who overcome will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.

Meanwhile we wait, praying that we might overcome with perserverence and hope.

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