Theater and the Gospel

Theater and the Gospel

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Text: Anne Morawski
Is Hungary more theatrical than other countries? I don’t know, but there is a strong focus on all the arts here. I have seen many more plays in Hungary in recent months than in years before I arrived.

This week there was a play at Táncsics Mihály Gimnázium in Dabas written and directed by a 14-year-old student and acted by a class of 12-year-olds, that covered the whole history of Europe in a playfully inciteful way.  Just a few costumes and props identified different countries personified by the actors who took us through the rise and fall of empires.  The young people were great, and I’m sure everyone learned a lot of history in the process.  

I went to a magnificent professional production of a delightful 19th century musical comedy (I’m sorry I can’t remember the name) in Budapest last fall.  I even saw the Hungarian classic, “Janos Vitez” at the National Theater with busloads of 5th graders.  The staging was excellent!  It was a modern production with a classic twist.  There have been Christmas plays by children at school and at church, but also plays at church written and performed by adults and children together to proclaim the message at Christmas and Easter.  

Recently Pastor Ildikó Heinemann and a group of young adults from the Lutheran congregation in Vecsés brought their play about Martin Luther to Dabas-Gyon.   In the play, Luther and Katie were in conversation with some students who asked about the early days of the Reformation. As Martin told about his past, younger actors portrayed the scenes.  There was energy and commitment in the production.  Clearly everyone knew the stories and treasured them. I especially enjoyed the costumes and the singing of classic Luther Hymns to the guitar. 

When I was in college I was the stage manager for the experimental theater at my school. As a parish pastor I staged many Bible plays for children and adults. There’s something about watching a story come to life on stage that helps us all remember it.  To put yourself in another person’s place or act as a fictional character helps you understand their perspective.  I spoke with a literature professor recently who said that as he taught the historical dramas of Shakespeare during the Communist era, he had the freedom to make a political statement without making one.  I learned from my actor and theater historian friend, Matthew Yde, that much of theater today has its roots in Medieval mystery plays, and before that in Greek drama.   This history has also shaped our liturgy in the church.   

I hope we never lose our desire to write novels, put on plays, perform music, recite great poems and speeches, and imagine the world as it may be.  The Bible is filled with poetry and stories that do just that.  They shape our faith and our relationship with God, they share God’s vision, and they make the world a more interesting and beautiful place to be.   

It is disputed whether or not Saint Francis said, “Preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words.”  But I hope he did say it.  I also like the quote from 2 Timothy 4:2, “Proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.”  Let us use all our plays and whatever literature, art, and music we have to share God’s love and grace throughout the world.  

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